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Wal-Mart gender discrimination case regroups and starts again

Over the summer, several of our posts were focused on the US Supreme Court's landmark ruling in the gender discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Inc. If the case had been allowed to proceed, it would have been the largest class-action lawsuit in history, affecting over 1.5 million female plaintiffs throughout the country, including Florida.

But the case was blocked. The Supreme Court did not make any judgments about whether gender discrimination had taken place. Rather, the Court decided that the plaintiffs did not meet the requirements for class-action status because they could not prove that their individual claims of discrimination were similar enough to be grouped into a class.

But the Court's ruling was not the end of the story. In fact, the lawsuit is already back in action just a few months later. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have chosen to proceed with several smaller class-action lawsuits against Wal-Mart instead, the first of which was filed today.

Rather than a national lawsuit involving 1.5 million women, this discrimination lawsuit will focus on women who work or have worked in Wal-Mart or Sam's Club stores in California. Attorneys estimate that this includes about 90,000 plaintiffs, split equally between current and former employees.

This case has come a long way from its origins in California in 1999. The lawsuit was sparked by an incident in which a female Wal-Mart employee was allegedly fired in retaliation for complaining about gender discrimination in her store.

A male co-worker with the same job but less experience was earning $10,000 more per year than she was. When she asked her boss about this, she was told that the man had a family to support.

That alone appears to be a clear-cut case of gender discrimination, but after doing some research, she and her attorneys came to believe that many other female employees at Wal-Mart suffered similar injustices.

As we have previously written, the Supreme Court's decision may have been a setback, but the case is far from over. Now, Wal-Mart may soon discover that many class-action lawsuits could be a bigger threat than just one.

Source: New York Times, "Female Wal-Mart Employees File New Bias Case," Andrew Martin, Oct. 27, 2011

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