In its long awaited decision, the Supreme Court put an end to the Walmart class action today, a gender bias lawsuit that was projected to reach nearly 1.5 million plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs in Wal-Mart v. Dukes may be correct that, at Walmart, gender discrimination is prevalent in the provision of raises and promotions.
But their inability to demonstrate that all class members suffered from the alleged discrimination is what led to the downfall of the case.
The Walmart class action alleged that local managers, who have discretion to award raises and promotions, exercise their power disproportionately in favor of men.
Because Walmart is aware of these disparities and has failed to remedy the problem, plaintiffs contend that there is a company-wide policy of gender discrimination.
Under Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, in order for plaintiffs to bring this lawsuit as a class action, they were required to demonstrate that "there are questions of law or fact common to the class."
This is known as commonality.
As the Court states, commonality requires that all class members be injured by the same behavior. In the context of the Walmart gender discrimination suit, this would mean that all class members were "disfavored for the same reason."
Despite statistical evidence, a sociological study, and anecdotal reports, the majority determined that there was not a sufficient basis to make this conclusion.
More specifically, the Court noted that, because managers at different stores utilized their own criteria, it is impossible to tell how often or whether gender played a role in the employment decisions that affected class members.
The impact of this distinction is twofold.
First, the Walmart gender discrimination plaintiffs who still wish to sue must do so individually or in smaller, more contained groups.
And second, as a result of the Walmart class action decision, employees alleging a corporate policy of discrimination will have a much more difficult time demonstrating commonality in future cases.
- Walmart Wins Supreme Court Gender-Bias Case (Bloomberg)
- Class Action Cases (FindLaw)
- Walmart Appeals Gender Discrimination Suit to Supreme Court (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life)