By Mark Sherman, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mounting a large-scale bias claim against a huge company will be more difficult in light of a Supreme Court decision that found no convincing proof of discrimination on which to allow a class action against retail giant Wal-Mart on behalf of as many as 1.6 million women.
All the justices agreed in the decision released Monday that the case couldn't proceed as a class action in its current form, reversing a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. By a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, the court also said there were too many women in too many jobs at Wal-Mart to wrap into one lawsuit.
While individuals could still pursue their own cases, they would continue with the prospect of costly legal fees and long time frames and ultimately lack the power that would have accompanied the largest sex-discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history.
Two of the named plaintiffs, Christine Kwapnoski and Betty Dukes, vowed to continue their fight, even as they expressed disappointment about the ruling.
"We still are determined to go forward to present our case in court. We believe we will prevail there," said Dukes, a greeter at the Wal-Mart in Pittsburg, Calif.
"All I have to say is when I go back to work tomorrow, I'm going to let them know we are still fighting," said Kwapnoski, an assistant manager at a Sam's Club in Concord, Calif. Both women spoke on a conference call with reporters.
The women's lawyers said they were considering filing thousands of discrimination claims against Wal-Mart, but they acknowledged that the court had dealt a fatal blow to their initial plan.
In a statement, Wal-Mart said, "The court today unanimously rejected class certification and, as the majority made clear, the plaintiffs' claims were worlds away from showing a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy."
Those with opposing perspectives of the merits of the case agreed that companies came out ahead with the decision. Companies as varied as the Wall Street firm Goldman-Sachs & Co., electronics giant Toshiba America Inc. and Cigna Healthcare Inc. also face class-action claims from women they employ.
"This is an extremely important victory not just for Wal-Mart, but for all companies that do business in the United States," said Theodore Boutrous Jr., Wal-Mart's lawyer. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the court had set a high bar in ruling that "mega-class actions such as this one are completely inconsistent with federal law."