Top Court Rules In Favor Of Wal-Mart
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
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But as NPR's Nina Totenberg reports, it does make any nationwide class-action lawsuit virtually impossible.
NINA TOTENBERG: Ted Boutros represents Wal-Mart.
NORRIS: This is an extremely important victory not just for Wal-Mart but for all companies who do business in the United States.
TOTENBERG: Joseph Sellers represents the women employees.
NORRIS: It's a great disappointment. It is not the end of the case by any means.
TOTENBERG: Civil rights lawyer David Sanford.
NORRIS: This is a disaster not only for civil rights litigants but for anyone who wants to bring a class action. The five-male majority decision today represents a jaw-dropping form of judicial activism.
TOTENBERG: Just last year, Sanford won a $175 million judgment against Novartis for its systemic discrimination against its 6,000 female salespeople nationwide on a theory similar to the one argued by the Wal-Mart plaintiffs that excessive discretion by supervisors resulted in gender discrimination. That case could not have been brought under today's ruling, he said.
NORRIS: I think it's going to change the landscape for class-action litigation.
TOTENBERG: Elise Bloom, who heads the class-action section at a law firm that defends large companies against class-action suits, agrees.
NORRIS: The first thing I'm going to do if there's been a certification decision, I'd go back and take a look at the certification decision and specifically take a look at, you know, what the basis for it was because the courts always have the ability to decertify.
TOTENBERG: Stanford law professor Debra Hensler, an expert on class-action suits, says she sees today's ruling as a pretty comprehensive defeat for civil rights plaintiffs.
P: I read this decision as saying absent that company having a policy that is clearly discriminatory on the face, which is, you know, hard to imagine in this day and age, that suits against discriminatory practices will now be much more difficult to pursue.
TOTENBERG: But Joe Sellers, the lawyer for the Wal-Mart women, says that while the road may be longer, he believes the case against Wal-Mart can still be made in cases brought on a statewide, region-wide or even storewide basis.
NORRIS: One of the things that was striking about this case more so than many, in my view, is how boldly and openly managers told women and men the reason why they weren't promoting women and were paying women less than men. This was not a practice that was furtive. It was quite out in the open.
TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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