Walmart dealt major blow in sex-bias lawsuit
A landmark sex-discrimination lawsuit against Walmart may proceed as a class action case, a federal appeals court said, dealing it a major blow and exposing it to billions of dollars of potential damages. More than 1 million women could be included in the class, after the 6-5 ruling by the Ninth Circuit court. The retailer said it would appeal to the US Supreme Court.
The original lawsuit claimed in 2001 that Walmart paid female workers less than their male colleagues and gave them fewer promotions. Wal-Mart had asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to undo class-action certification in the case that alleged discrimination in its more than 3,000 stores.
Reacting to the ruling, Wal-Mart stated: “We are pleased that the court agreed with our position on several critical issues. The court significantly reduced the size of the originally certified class by as much as two-thirds. Finding that the trial court 'abused its discretion,' the appeals court also set aside the ruling on punitive damages. We disagree with the decision of the sharply divided 6-5 court to uphold portions of the certification order, and are considering our options, including seeking review from the Supreme Court. It is important to remember the court did not address the merits of this case. The court reiterated, 'our findings relate only to class action procedural questions; we neither analyse nor reach the merits of Plaintiffs' allegations of gender discrimination.' The court further noted that the trial court 'has the discretion to modify or decertify the class.' We do not believe the claims alleged by the six individuals who brought this suit are representative of the experiences of our female associates. Walmart is an excellent place for women to work and fosters female leadership among our associates and in the larger business world. We are proud of the strides we have made to advance and support our female associates and have been recognised for our efforts to advance women through a number of awards and accolades.”
The class action will now cover claims made by women who have worked at Walmart since June 2001. A lower court will decide whether the claims of those who worked between 1998 and 2001 can join the class. Both sides squabbled over the new size of the class in light of the court's ruling. Theodore Boutrous, who argued the case for Wal-Mart in front of the Ninth Circuit, said the ruling in effect whittled the size of the class down from roughly 1.6 million to 500,000. Seligman disagreed, saying claims from only about 20% of the class had been remanded to the lower court.
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