The Supreme Court just dismissed the massive gender bias case against Wal-Mart.The lawsuit claimed that 1.6 million current and former Wal-Mart employees were subject to discrimination. The women, headed by Betty Dukes, claimed they had been passed over for promotions and paid less than male employees.
The plaintiffs hoped for a settlement in the billions of dollars. They also would have set a precedent for gender discrimination at many corporations.
But Wal-Mart doesn’t have to worry any more.
Justice Scalia expressed the Court’s opinion — which was unanimous — that the class action suit was too large and varied to carry forward.
In this case, proof of commonality necessarily overlaps with respondents’ merits contention that Wal-Mart en-gages in a pattern or practice of discrimination. That is so because, in resolving an individual’s Title VII claim, the crux of the inquiry is “the reason for a particular employ-ment decision,” Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank of Rich-mond, 467 U. S. 867, 876 (1984). Here respondents wish to sue about literally millions of employment decisions at once. Without some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims for relief will produce a common answer to the crucial question why was I disfavored.
The Court said discrimination can be established only if the employer “used a biased testing procedure” when evaluating employees or if “significant proof” of discrimination existed. Walmart didn’t meet either criteria:
Wal-Mart has no testing procedure or other companywide evaluation method that can be charged with bias. The whole point of permitting discretionary decisionmaking is to avoid evaluating employees under a common standard. The second manner of bridging the gap requires “significant proof” that Wal-Mart “operated under a general policy of discrimination.” That is entirely absent here.
Although obviously a victory for Wal-Mart, the downside will be the legal cost of a multitude of smaller cases. Legal tech expert Rudy Rouhana told Above The Law:
“I think that either way Wal-Mart will have to do an equal amount of preservation, because they will still have to anticipate litigation from all the individuals even if they don’t all individually wind up filing claims against Wal-Mart. However, the actual volume of data that they will have to collect, process and review will likely be less since not 100% of the people eligible to join the class action will go further with an individual lawsuit.”
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