Lawyers for women who tried to sue Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for alleged discrimination said they will continue with their clients’ claims despite today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling blocking a nationwide class action.
“We’re obviously very disappointed. But it’s not dead. The issue of equal pay is not dead and neither is the issue of discrimination in the workplace,” said Arcelia Hurtado, a lawyer with Equal Rights Advocates in San Francisco.
Hurtado said she expects a hearing in federal court in San Francisco within the next few weeks on the lawsuit filed in 2001 by the six original plaintiffs, who were led by Betty Dukes, a greeter at a Wal-Mart store in Pittsburg.
Hurtado said proceedings before the trial judge assigned to the case, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, will determine how the women will continue their job bias claims against the world’s largest private employer.
The claims could continue through individual lawsuits or possibly smaller class actions based on individual stores, regions or other factors, the attorney said.
If allowed by the high court, the now-blocked class action, or group lawsuit, would have been the largest in the nation’s history, on behalf of up to 1.5 million past and present female workers.
The Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote said the women couldn’t seek to prove a company-wide policy of discrimination through a class action, and by a 9-0 vote said the women couldn’t seek back pay as a class.
Justice Antonin Scalia said in the majority opinion that the plaintiffs “have not established the existence of any common question” because they provided “no convincing proof of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.”
Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., has 3,400 discount department stores nationwide.
The plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued that the company had a “common culture” of bias against women in pay and promotion.
Wal-Mart issued a statement saying, “We are pleased with today’s ruling and believe the Court made the right decision.
“Wal-Mart has had strong policies against discrimination for many years,” the company said.
The high court overturned a decision in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled by a 6-5 vote in San Francisco last year that the case could proceed as a class action on behalf of most present and former women workers.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News