The United States Supreme Court dismissed a class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., which claimed that the retailer had discriminated against 1.5 million female workers.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the 5-4 majority in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, said that “In a company of Wal-Mart’s size and geographical scope, it is quite unbelievable that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction.” The opinion further suggested that short of being able to point to an actual company policy of discriminating, such massive class actions could not be certified.
The entire court agreed that the class action suit as it was constituted could not seek monetary damages because it sought individual awards of back pay for some of the women.
Nevertheless, four justices (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) disagreed with the majority’s dismissal of the entire case. As Justice Ginsburg highlighted, “Women fill 70% of the hourly jobs in the retailer’s stores, but make up only ‘33% of the management employees … The higher one looks in the organization, the lower the percentage of women.'” Based on this and other statistical evidence, the dissenters believed that the suit could possibly have been maintained under another class action standard, which requires only that common class questions “predominate” over issues affecting individuals. The majority’s decision, however, foreclosed this possibility.
Commentators contend that the ruling is not only a victory for Wal-Mart but also may help to shield other large employers from similar claims of discrimination that rely upon statistics.