The American women who sought to sue Walmart for gender bias on behalf of 1.5 million co-workers say they will press their fight against the US’s largest private employer in smaller lawsuits in lower courts and claims with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The US Supreme Court on Monday said the women had failed to prove the retailer had a nationwide policy that led to gender discrimination. The court deprived them of the leverage a nationwide suit brings, both in pooled legal resources and a potential multibillion-dollar verdict, forcing them to pursue claims on their own.
“When I go back to work tomorrow, I’m going to let them know we are still fighting,” said Christine Kwapnoski, an assistant manager at a Sam’s Club store in California. She had accused a male manager of yelling at female employees and telling her to “doll up” by wearing more makeup and dressing better while working on a loading dock.
Walmart may now face thousands of lawsuits and claims of discrimination as lawyers fan out across the US to file new complaints.
Kwapnoski and others pressing their suit claimed they were victimised by Walmart’s practice of letting local managers make subjective decisions about pay and promotions. More than 100 employees had filed sworn statements saying they were paid less and given fewer opportunities for promotion than male colleagues.
Walmart said on Monday that the supreme court ruling “effectively ends this class action lawsuit”.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that the workers “provide no convincing proof of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy”.
Filed in 2001, the suit aimed to cover every woman who worked at the group’s Walmart and Sam’s Club stores at any point since December 1998.
The lead attorneys for the plaintiffs are Joseph Sellers of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and Brad Seligman of the Impact Fund, which describes itself as a foundation that handles public interest litigation. They said they would seek a way around the court ruling, moving ahead with claims on behalf of aggrieved workers, either individually or in smaller groups.
The cost of defending thousands of lawsuits in hundreds of courthouses may be expensive for Walmart as well.
“Walmart may regret the day” it sought a rejection of class certification, Seligman said. “Walmart is not off the hook.” – Bloomberg