Supreme Court Rules Against Women of Wal-Mart
In a sharply divided decision yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled against the women of Wal-Mart (pictured at right) and blocked the progress of their class action lawsuit alleging gender-based discrimination. Although all nine justices agreed on a technicality about the way the class was certified, a narrow majority of five justices was willing to go even further and assert that the female employees do not have enough in common to sue as a class, thus raising the bar for all women and other workers who want to systemically challenge unequal treatment in the workplace (see a complete analysis of the decision here). As RAC Associate Director Mark J. Pelavin said in a press release issued yesterday, we find this decision troubling because it essentially creates a "large-company exception" to America's civil rights laws and it has broad implications for the future of class action lawsuits as a legal tool, especially when it comes to fighting discrimination in the workplace.
It's important to remember that Monday's decision focused only on whether a group of 1.5 million current and former female employees of Wal-Mart can continue with their class action lawsuit; it was not a judgment on the merits of the discrimination case against Wal-Mart. On that question, because of the Supreme Court's decision, the women of Wal-Mart may have to proceed with individual cases or smaller, multiple class action cases. Unfortunately, both options require much more time and money from the women, making it significantly harder for them to receive the fair pay and justice they deserve.
The Union for Reform Judaism had joined an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to allow the female Wal-Mart employees to pursue their class action lawsuit. Although we are disappointed in yesterday's outcome, we now look toward Congress to consider addressing the decision's impact on the ability of plaintiffs to bring class actions. Allowing individuals to proceed with class action lawsuits is critical to their ability to pursue their right to equal treatment.
This case also demonstrates a clear need for strong enforcement and legislative action to help women enforce their rights to equal pay. Sadly, Wal-Mart's alleged actions are part of a larger pattern of discrimination against women in pay and promotions. Women in the United States are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. Congress needs to take up the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would deter pay discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and barring retaliation against workers who disclose their wages.
Urge your Member of Congress to co-sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act today and keep checking this blog for updates on equal pay and other Supreme Court decisions.