Earlier this week, we wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart cannot proceed. The lawsuit alleged systematic gender discrimination and was filed on behalf of over 1.5 million female employees.
The lawsuit would have been the largest class-action suit in history. However, in a narrow 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected the case.
While the court did not necessarily deny that some gender discrimination could be in place, they said there was no evidence of a systematic pattern which would suggest that discrimination was company policy.
The majority opinion said: "The basic theory of their case is that a strong and uniform 'corporate culture' permits bias against women to infect, perhaps subconsciously, the discretionary decision-making of each one of Wal-Mart's thousands of managers - thereby making every woman at the company the victim of one common discriminatory practice."
Justices were skeptical that Wal-Mart had uniform policies of discrimination that would allow all of these female employees to be lumped together in a single class-action lawsuit.
This was a closely-watched decision, and critics of the ruling say that it will set a precedent in favor of employers in future cases. One lawyer pointed out that of the 9 Supreme Court Justices, only 3 are women and all 3 ruled against Wal-Mart in the minority opinion.
The Supreme Court's ruling is a landmark verdict, and one which will greatly affect future discrimination lawsuits. In addition to making it more difficult to bring future legal action against an employer, the decision also restricts how and when discrimination lawsuits can be bundled into a class-action lawsuit.
Source: Google News, "US Supreme Court rejects Wal-Mart gender bias suit," Lucile Malandain, 20 June 2011