Wal-Mart Going to the High Court

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Dec. 6 2010 12:30 PM

Wal-Mart Going to the High Court

/blogs/xx_factor/2010/12/06/_2/jcr:content/body/slate_image

The Supreme Court just agreed to hear what may be one of the most important business cases of the term , Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores . This suit was first filed in 2001 by six women in federal court. The issue at this point is whether the courts can certify the biggest class-action suit in American history; as many as 1.6 million current and former Wal-Mart employees want to combine their claims in a single suit alleging pay and promotion discrimination. Wal-Mart responds that the plaintiffs in this case worked in 3,400 different stores in 170 job classifications, and allowing them to bundle all their disparate claims together would create a class so large as to be unworkable. The only issue the court will decide this spring is whether the class can be certified, not the merits of the discrimination claims.  Last spring the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in a fractious 6-5 vote to allow the suit to proceed as a class-action.

Advertisement

The six plaintiffs in the suit claim that despite the enormous size of the class, Wal-Mart’s decision-makers determine pay and promotion based on a rigid and highly centralized "strong corporate culture that includes gender stereotyping." Their claim is that women constitute more than 70 percent of Wal-Mart's hourly workforce but less than one-third of salaried management. They seek back pay, punitive damages, and changes to Wal-Mart’s hiring and promotions policies. Wal-Mart’s liability may be in the billions of dollars. Aside from the size of the class, Wal-Mart argues that the lower courts used the wrong standards to certify the class.

This is a high-stakes appeal that has elicited strong responses from the Chamber of Commerce on one hand, and those who worry about the need for class-action suits to protect worker rights on the other. It’s going to garner an enormous amount of interest from those who contend that big business never loses at the Roberts court and that workers can't catch a break. It may also prove an early litmus test for whether the presence of three women at the high court will in any way shape the debate about gender discrimination.

Photograph of Wal-Mart exterior from Wikimedia Commons.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

Walmart Is Crushing the Rest of Corporate America in Adopting Solar Power

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.