The United States Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments tomorrow in a gender discrimination class action case against WalMart. The plaintiffs, female employees of WalMart, allege WalMart has been
paying women in the United States less than men for the same work and of passing the women over for promotions while only promoting men. The women plaintiffs’ march to justice has taken a mere ten years. This should show you how much courage and tenacity it takes to be a plaintiff in high stakes litigation against a large corporation. To say these women are the underdogs wins the Understatement of the Year Award. One of the original plaintiffs who first brought the lawsuit against the mega-retailer in 2001 confirmed this by explaining “I’m a fighter if nothing else, and so are all the other women that are involved,” said Christine Kwapnoski.
No doubt that these women plaintiffs are fighters. You have to be to take on one of the world’s largest corporations, who can afford the most expensive legal talent in the United States. And, to bring a claim of gender discrimination which, unfortunately, has become one of the hardest types of cases to win as a plaintiff. The case law that has developed by interpreting the application of Title VII, The Equal Rights Act, tends to favor the employer in nearly all circuits. The Eleventh Circuirt Court of Appeals, of which Atlanta is a part, has some of the most conservative opinions in the country interpreting Title VII such that only a very small percentage of these cases ever sees the light of day with a jury. The vast majority of them are thrown out of court by the trial court judge on what is called a Motion for Summary Judgment. The odds are clearly against the plaintiffs.
If the court rules in favor of the women and grants them “class certification,” it will most likely become the largest employment class-action suit in history, involving potentially millions of women and billions of dollars. Keep in mind the U.S. Supreme Court will not be making a decision on the merits of the case, i.e., whether Wal-Mart did, in fact, discriminate against women. Rather, the Court will be deciding whether the class certification, of a class that would potentially include millions of women, should go forward.
That this opinion from the Supreme Court could be an eye-opener for corporate America is without question. Many Americans will be eagerly awaiting the Court’s decision, which is expected this summer. I know I will be and I will keep you posted right here.