The vindication was a long time coming and Walmart surely hasn’t heard the last from litigants alleging all sorts of misdeeds on the part of the company, but when the Supreme Court ruled this past week that a lawsuit didn’t merit class action status it was a victory for the company and large businesses everywhere.
Plaintiffs in the case obviously saw it differently – as a setback for women everywhere – but for the time being the ruling in the Betty Dukes case is seen as imposing new limits on class-action suits. The Supreme Court ruling on Monday essentially ended what had the potential of being the largest and most expensive class action lawsuit ever. In a ruling that was not unexpected, the justices overturned a U.S. appeals court ruling that more than a million female employees nationwide could join in the lawsuit, which accused Walmart of paying women less and giving them fewer promotions. The Supreme Court agreed with Walmart that the class-action certification violated federal rules for such lawsuits. It accepted Walmart's main argument that the female employees in different jobs at 3,400 different stores nationwide and with different supervisors do not have enough in common to be lumped together in a single class-action lawsuit.
The justices said the lawyers arguing the case failed to point to a common corporate policy that led to gender discrimination against workers at thousands of Walmart and Sam’s Club stores across the country. The court ruled unanimously on some aspects of the case and divided on others.
In a statement released by Wal-Mart Stores, Gisel Ruiz EVP people for Walmart U.S., said, “We are pleased with today's ruling and believe the court made the right decision. Walmart has had strong policies against discrimination for many years. The court today unanimously rejected class certification and, as the majority made clear, the plaintiffs' claims were worlds away from showing a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.”
The case was one of the most closely watched Supreme Court business disputes in some time, in part because the justices hadn’t looked at the standards for certifying a class-action suit in more than 10 years.
However, just because the ruling didn’t go the plaintiff’s one doesn’t mean the matter is entirely resolved. Lawyers for the women involved in the case vowed to continue the fight in smaller lawsuits in lower courts and claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.