Thursday, 28 April 2011

Supreme Court Hears Wal-Mart Gender Discrimination Case

It’s not just the largest gender discrimination lawsuit that California employment lawyers have come across, but also marks the very first time that the nation's highest court has had three female justices presiding over a gender discrimination case. As the Supreme Court continues hearing arguments related to the Wal-Mart sexual harassment class action, California employment lawyers are already finding some differences of opinion between the genders on the bench.

This Supreme Court is hearing whether female employees at Wal-Mart have sufficient basis to allege that the company had a common discriminatory policy in pay and promotions. The lawsuit is headed by Betty Duke, a former greeter at Wal-Mart, and if the Supreme Court chooses to allow the case go to trial, it would be the largest gender discrimination lawsuit in American history. The justices, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy are questioning specifically whether the company had a corporate policy in place that violated the rights of female employees under the federal law known as Title VII. The justices are looking at whether more than 1 million female employees at Wal-Mart have strong enough allegations of systematic discrimination at Wal-Mart for the case to go to trial.

Already, initial questioning seems to suggest some divisions on the bench based on gender. All the three female justices including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan have expressed their support for the class-action lawsuit. The only male justice showing support with his female colleagues was Justice Stephen Breyer.

A decision by the Supreme Court can be expected anytime before June, when the court adjourns. Whatever the decision of the court, it could affect other class-action lawsuits, especially those related to employment law issues. In fact, it's hard to think of any other case that would have as significant an impact on women's employment issues than the Wal-Mart case. Not only are 1.5 million employees of the company likely to join the lawsuit if the Supreme Court gives the go-ahead, but because Wal-Mart is such a huge employer, any decision is likely to significantly impact pay and promotion policies at companies across the country.

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