It’s the biggest employment discrimination lawsuit in American history, but for now the issue in Dukes v. Wal-Mart is whether the case can go forward as a class action on behalf of more than a million individuals. The nine-year-old case potentially involves more than 1.5 million female employees, current and former, of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores. Wal-Mart argues that the women must file their claims individually or in smaller groups.
The Court’s opinion (PDF), written by Justice Antonin Scalia, held that the first federal rule does not permit such lawsuits “when each individual class member would be entitled to a different injunction or declaratory judgment.”
The justices were split, however, on the question of whether the plaintiffs might qualify as a class under the second rule. Scalia, writing for the Court’s conservative majority, said the plaintiffs had failed to show that Wal-Mart “operated under a general policy of discrimination,” noting that the company’s announced policy forbids sex discrimination.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a partial dissent for the Court’s four liberal justices, wrote that there was enough evidence of “commonality” to send the case back to the lower court for consideration and said the majority’s decision wrongly “disqualifies the class at the starting gate.”
The court's decision, a big victory for Wal-Mart, will force the plaintiffs in the case to pursue discrimination claims individually.