The court ruled unanimously that the lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. cannot proceed as a class action, reversing a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The lawsuit could have involved up to 1.6 million women, with Wal-Mart facing potentially billions of dollars in damages....I hope the GOP candidates for President are smart and articulate enough to use this case in their argument against electing the Democratic President to a second term.
The justices divided 5-4 on another aspect of the ruling that could make it much harder to mount similar class-action discrimination lawsuits against large employers.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion for the court’s conservative majority said there needs to be common elements tying together “literally millions of employment decisions at once.”
But Scalia said that in the lawsuit against the nation’s largest private employer, “That is entirely absent here.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court’s four liberal justices, said there was more than enough uniting the claims. “Wal-Mart’s delegation of discretion over pay and promotions is a policy uniform throughout all stores,” Ginsburg said.
ADDED: After the oral argument, back in March, I wrote:
I think plaintiffs are trying to say that if headquarters can see a pattern of women doing poorly under the decentralized discretion system, then keeping that system in place is a discriminatory policy. That absence of centralized control is the common issue that makes it an appropriate class action (rather than lot of individual cases that ought to be brought separately if at all).ALSO: I'm reading Justice Scalia's assessment of the "social framework" analysis that the plaintiffs offered to prove that Wal-Mart had "a general policy of discrimination" (which was supposed to be the common question supporting the class action form of litigation):
So... the thing that makes a million individuals the same is that they... are different. They should have been made the same.... or more alike... by a sex-discrimination-conscious policy. I think it's possible to get your head around that idea, but nearly impossible to picture workable legal doctrine governing the real-world affairs of human beings... including the judges who would apply it.
[Dr. William] Bielby testified that Wal-Mart has a “strong corporate culture,” that makes it “ ‘vulnerable’ ” to “gender bias.” Id., at 152. He could not, however, “determine with any specificity how regularly stereotypes play a meaningful role in employment decisions at Wal-Mart. At his deposition … Dr. Bielby conceded that he could not calculate whether 0.5 percent or 95 percent of the employment decisions at Wal-Mart might be determined by stereotyped thinking.” 222 F. R. D. 189, 192 (ND Cal. 2004)....“[W]hether 0.5 percent or 95 percent of the employment decisions at Wal-Mart might be determined by stereotyped thinking” is the essential question on which respondents’ theory of commonality depends. If Bielby admittedly has no answer to that question, we can safely disregard what he has to say.AND: I've written a new post to help you understand the way in which this was not a unanimous decision.