In a staggering decision, the US Supreme Court ruled this week in the case of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. vs Dukes, et al., that a class action on behalf of approximately 1.5 million current and former female employees of Walmart could not move forward under the class certification rules set forth under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The case, which was brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleged that local managers at Walmart’s hundreds of stores exercised discretion over pay and promotions disproportionately in favor of male employees. However, five Justices determined that only where there was a “general policy of discrimination” could a single employee’s discrimination claim and a class of persons who have suffered the same injury be bridged, in order to support such a substantial class of employees.
The only evidence which the Court referred to as supportive of a “general policy of discrimnation” was a sociologist’s analysis stating that Walmart’s corporate culture made it vulnerable to gender bias. However the Court held that since the expert could not estimate what portion of the Wal-Mart’s decisions were based upon discriminatory thinking, there was an absence of ‘siginificant proof’ that the company operated under a general policy of discrimination.
Though there were strong dissents in the opinion, it appears that for now such large class actions will need to concentrate more on evidence of widespread discrimination, rather than the sheer volume of persons making similar allegations.