Walmart's big sex-discrimination court victory: Winners and losers

The Supreme Court sides with Walmart in a monumental case. Who benefits from the ruling, and who gets burned?

A massive sex-discrimination case against Walmart was thrown out by the Supreme Court on Monday, which bodes will for the big-business community, but not for the little guy.
(Image credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court threw out a massive sex-discrimination class-action lawsuit against Walmart on Monday, agreeing unanimously that the mega-case was a poor fit as a class action in its current form. But in a narrower 5-4 decision, the court's conservatives, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, said the suit was just too big, period, with the up to 1.6 million plaintiffs sharing "little in common but their sex and this lawsuit." Writing for the liberal wing, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the plaintiffs provided enough statistical evidence of company-wide discrimination against female employees that the case should go to trial. Who are the big winners and losers?



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Dodging the largest-ever sex-discrimination lawsuit "was a big victory for the nation's largest private employer," says Bill Mears at CNN, as well as nearly every other company "and the business community at large." The court's "blockbuster decision" will also protect Walmart from future harm because it "practically dismantles employment discrimination class-action lawsuits," says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. If Ginsburg had gotten her way, future dubious, massive suits "would that have sapped retailers of billions in capital."

Corporate impunity

Yes, this is "a big win for Walmart, and for other large firms that may not choose to treat employees fairly," says John Nichols at The Nation. Scalia's reasoning seems to be that "lawlessness" is fine if a company is illegally discriminating against "hundreds of thousands of women, as opposed to just a few." Any guess as to how inclined big companies will be to uphold workers' legal rights now? Not very, now that the Roberts Court has just created a "new protected class: The 'too big for justice' corporations."

The economy

This ruling is "good news for anyone concerned about our already-suffering economy," says Carrie Lukas at National Review. It's also good for workers. If the Supreme Court had opened the flood gates to other huge class-action suits, it would have done nothing but "distract businesses from their missions and drain resources away from productive uses, such as hiring workers."



What Scalia's opinion really says is that "in the court's eyes, sex discrimination is simply too pervasive to be a problem," says Dahlia Lithwick at Slate. In Scalia-land, Walmart's policy of letting the largely male managers at individual stores discriminate against women isn't Walmart's fault, and anyway, "God knows men don't have unconscious biases and prejudices against women." Except statistics say they do, especially at Walmart. In other words, "ladies, you're on your own," says Irin Carmon at Jezebel.

Class-action lawyers

This monumental ruling is likely to bar class actions in "a whole range of cases from consumer lawsuits to anti-trust cases," says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. But the big losers here aren't the individual plaintiffs, who often "get almost nothing from the eventual settlement" these days, but rather the class-action attorneys, who "walk away with millions of dollars in legal fees." So on balance, this defining-down of class actions "isn't necessarily a bad thing."

The little guy

This ruling doesn't just affect the "little Janie Qs," as Walmart senior (male) managers refer to their female associates, says Elizabeth B. Wydra at The Huffington Post. These women had "banded together to seek a company-wide solution to a company-wide problem." Thanks to the court's conservatives, any workers who want to take on corporate Goliaths from now on are much more likely to have David-like individual lawsuits as their only recourse. And in the Roberts Court, Goliath always seems to win.

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