Supreme Court Hears Sex Discrimination Suit

March 30, 2011  |  

(Wall Street Journal) — A class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. appeared unlikely to survive after Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments, where justices suggested the suit was unfair both to the nation’s largest retailer and many of the women who allegedly were victimized.  The lawsuit accused Wal-Mart of systematically paying as many as three million current and former female workers less than men and providing them fewer opportunities for promotion. Wal-Mart denies the claims, which could total billions of dollars in back pay and punitive damages, and says it has a strict antidiscrimination policy.  The case potentially could set new standards for future employment class action. Much of corporate America, including Altria Group Inc., General Electric Co., Microsoft Corp. and Tyson Foods Inc., has backed Wal-Mart, arguing that a plaintiff victory could open the door to unprecedented liability.  But civil rights, women’s rights and labor rights groups have sided with the plaintiffs, contending that a sweeping class action is one of few effective tools against ingrained discrimination in the workplace.  The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the suit, filed in 2001, could proceed in its current form. It has yet to go to trial because Wal-Mart contends the alleged victims, who worked in 170 job classifications across 3,400 stores, have too little in common to qualify for a single class action suit.

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