he Supreme Court on Tuesday will begin hearing what observers are calling "the biggest class-action discrimination case ever fought." The case, which stretches back 11 years, pits the retail giant Walmart against a group of plaintiffs who contend the company intentionally discriminates against its female employees by paying them significantly less money than their male co-workers. The Supreme Court must decide, finally, if the case can proceed as a class-action lawsuit. If the court sides with the plaintiffs, Walmart could potentially be forced to pay millions of its current and former female employees as much as $25 billion in back pay and punitive damages. If Walmart wins, it would deal a blow to class-action lawsuits across the board. Which way is the court likely to rule?
The court will side with Walmart: The law requires class actions to "represent a coherent group of plaintiffs" with common claims and zero conflict, says Daniel Fisher at Forbes. Walmart's "powerful argument" is that its female workforce is "internally fractured," with female executives who supposedly discriminated against other women, and "hundreds of thousands of women who suffered no discrimination."
"Walmart vs. Dukes ask courts to fix the world"
But the court's three women may make a difference: Most people contend that "big business never loses at the Roberts court," says Dahlia Lithwick at Slate's Double X blog. But that assumption ignores the three female justices serving on the current court. This case might be an "early litmust test" for whether Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan "shape the debate about gender discrimination."
"Walmart going to the high court"
Walmart has already won a partial victory by stalling: No matter what the court says, says Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic, Walmart has already "succeeded in blunting the force of the allegations against it" by creating a "breathtaking pretrial delay." It's been more than a decade since Betty Dukes originally brought the discrimination case against Walmart, and it is still "nowhere near trial." Even if the justices rule in favor of Dukes, "it could easily take another 11 years, or longer, to finally resolve this case."
"Welcome to Walmart: The biggest case of the term"
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