Wal-Mart Staves Off Gender Discrimination Class Action But May Face Thousands of Smaller Lawsuits

Last Monday, Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer, Wal-Mart, escaped the possibility of having to face a nationwide class action lawsuit regarding gender discrimination, thanks to a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision. The case had been percolating through the courts since 2001
Thanks to the ruling, 1.5 million current and former female workers at the United States’ largest private employer will now be forced to seek redress through smaller lawsuits. Pundits suggest that Wal-Mart may have won something of a pyrrhic victory, in that the company may soon be besieged with thousands of tiny gender discrimination lawsuits. In other words, had the retailer taken on the 1.5 million women in a class action, Wal-Mart may have had to pay out a multi-billion dollar settlement. But at least this would have resolved the legal battle in one fell swoop.

Now, at least according to some analysts, the fractured class of plaintiffs may reconstitute into smaller groups and create a long-term, complicated struggle over whether companywide policies favored male employees over female ones.

Had the Supreme Court allowed the plaintiffs to get certified as a class, the mass tort would have been the biggest case of its kind in U.S. history.

Attorneys, interest groups, and pundits spent the week feverishly debating the ramifications of this SCOTUS decision. Does the decision reveal that the Supreme Court is somehow biased against workplace victims? And, if so, will this bias trickle down to other critical matters? Or does this thinking constitute a case of “reading too much into the tea leaves”? Or, perhaps, is there actually such a thing as too big a class and that justice is better served for groups only up till a certain number of participants?

Given the recentness of the decision, it’s probably impossible to draw too many conclusions at this point. Yes, this was a high profile case and a victory for a powerful employer. But the Supreme Court was not looking at whether or not women workers at Wal-Mart had been wronged; rather, the Court made a decision about whether 1.5 million women could be certified as a class in a class action suit – a much narrow and more specific point.

All this is to say that, if you have been struggling with an issue at work – such as a boss harassing you, a manager withholding your pay illegally, or a coworker making racially insensitive comments – you still have ample rights and resources at your disposal.

Learn more about your potential to take decisive legal action by connecting with Joseph & Kirschenbaum at (212) 688-5640. Or learn more about our firm and its philosophy on the web at www.jhllp.com.