The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a giant class-action sex discrimination lawsuit cannot proceed against Wal-Mart. The largest private employer in the U.S. could have been held liable for billions in damages if the lawsuit had been allowed to proceed and the plaintiffs had won.
Six women filed the lawsuit against Wal-Mart a decade ago. The women claimed that Wal-Mart systematically discriminated against them in pay and promotions because of their sex. They wanted the lawsuit to have class-action status so that it could represent all current and former female employees of Wal-Mart, or about 1.5 million women. With the Supreme Court decision, individual sex discrimination lawsuits against the company could be filed, but the ongoing class-action cannot move forward.
The Supreme Court justices said that it would be impossible to show or to disprove that all of those women had been discriminated against all for the same reason and in the same way. This is because the women worked in different regions and for different managers. The women had argued that Wal-Mart had condoned sex discrimination because of a widespread corporate culture that fostered this discrimination.
Wal-Mart’s business model, however, involved giving regional managers power in decisions regarding employment. Giving the managers the decision-making power may have led to discrimination, but it was the opposite of Wal-Mart having a uniform policy of sex bias against female employees. In the end, the plaintiffs’ arguments were seen as contradictory and the lawsuit as unsupportable.
Wal-Mart operates 3,400 stores across the U.S. According to the Associated Press, the global company makes 400 billion in revenue every year.
Supreme Court rejects Wal-Mart sexual bias suit (Associated Press)