On Monday the Supreme Court threw out a case against Walmart that sought backpay to compensate an upwards of a million female employees who claim they were discriminated against in pay and promotion decisions. Had the case gone through, it would have cost Walmart billions of dollars. The court didn’t even get as far as making a decision about whether or not the ladies of Walmart were actually getting discriminated against; rather, the case was dismissed on a account of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision that the plaintiffs’ lawyers had filed the suit improperly under a part of the class action rules that weren’t concerned with financial claims. Because the claim involved tons of individual employment decisions, in order for the case to fly the plaintiffs were required to prove that there is some common denominator between all of them that would point to a general policy of discrimination that Walmart employs on the whole. Because the plaintiffs’ evidence did not convince he Supreme Court that this is the case, the decision deems that women are not allowed to file a suit as a class, and that instead claims such as this will have to be filed on an individual basis.
The New York Times says “Justice Scalia (was not) impressed with the anecdotal and statistical evidence offered by the plaintiffs. One of the plaintiffs named in the suit, Christine Kwapnoski, had testified, for instance, that a male manager yelled at female employees but not male ones and had instructed her to 'doll up.' Justice Scalia said that scattered anecdotes — 'about 1 for every 12,500 class members,' he wrote — were insignificant.”
This makes me nervous for a couple of reasons. The first is that this ruling could potentially make it a lot more difficult to confront larger corporations about bad behavior concerning their employees, particularly women. The second is that the women’s verbal accounts of their experiences are being discounted and deemed insignificant, which reminds me that women’s fight for equitable rights in the workplace (and everywhere else) is still a fierce and difficult one.
The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.