Monday, December 06, 2010

O-Oh! The Supremes, Class Action Suits And Wal-Mart

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Wal-Mart sex discrimination case:

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal in the biggest employment discrimination case in the nation's history, one claiming that Wal-Mart discriminated against hundreds of thousands of women in pay and promotion. The lawsuit seeks back pay that could amount to billions of dollars.

The question before the court is not whether there was discrimination but rather whether the claims by the individual employees may be combined as a class action. The court's decision on that issue will almost certainly affect all sorts of class- action suits, including ones asserting antitrust, securities and, products liability and other claims.

If nothing else, many pending class actions will slow or stop while litigants and courts await the decision in the case.
Now this will be fun! We learn that these women didn't have enough in common to constitute a class:

In April, an 11-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled by a 6-to-5 vote that the class action could go forward


That drew a sharp dissent from Chief Judge Alex Kozinski. "Maybe there'd be no difference between 500 employees and 500,000 employees if they all had similar jobs, worked at the same half-billion square foot store and were supervised by the same managers," he wrote. "But the half-million members of the majority's approved class held a multitude of jobs, at different levels of Wal-Mart's hierarchy, for variable lengths of time, in 3,400 stores, sprinkled across 50 states, with a kaleidoscope of supervisors (male and female)."

"They have little in common but their sex and this lawsuit," Judge Kozinski concluded.
Bolds by me. I laughed over that sentence, and I bet many of you did, too. Because what those women had in common, other than the lawsuit, were three things: They are women, they worked for Wal-Mart, and they got paid less than men working in similar positions.

Now, it's possible that the reasons why they got paid less than men could be debated, but it really can be quite enough to be a woman to get paid less in some places. Mmm.

This will all be about the grounds for class action suits. If those grounds can be narrowed the firms will benefit. Pardon my cynicism, but I think that's the way we will be going with this Supreme Court. There's a pattern I spot which has to do with giving Big Money more rights than anyone else. That Wal-Mart itself is humongous is of no concern here. That the affected work force might be humongous is.

Contrast and compare this to the cases about freedom of speech and how that should roughly follow the pattern of wealth in this country. So it's not just about women's rights, though squashing those is good for the ruling classes, too. Costs less.