Supreme Court backs Wal-Mart in lawsuit on sex discrimination

The American retailer Best Buy, renowned both for selling cheap electronics and providing patchy customer service, is claiming legal ownership of the term "geek".

Los Angeles

Handing a valuable and highly symbolic victory to Corporate America, the US Supreme Court has blocked a massive sexual discrimination lawsuit which would have claimed systematic discrimination in the employment practices of the retail giant Wal-Mart.

The nation's highest court yesterday overturned an earlier ruling which would have allowed as many as 1.6 million female Wal-Mart employees to sue the firm for allegedly paying women less than men, and for giving them fewer promotions than their male counterparts. In a decision passed on ideological lines – it was supported by the Supreme Court's five conservative justices and opposed by its four liberal ones – the court ruled that there were too many women in too many different jobs at the company to wrap into a single lawsuit. Individual plaintiffs will still be able to pursue their own discrimination suits. However they will now find themselves in a David versus Goliath battle, with fewer legal resources to draw upon, smaller amounts of compensation at stake and less pressure on Wal-Mart to settle.

The decision was celebrated by the US business community, which feared that any sex discrimination payout by Wal-Mart could lead to a flood of similar suits against other employers. Large class-action lawsuits, in which groups of plaintiffs band together to sue corporations, have in the past led to huge payouts by tobacco, oil and food companies.

Civil rights and women's groups said that it represented a setback for gender equality. "The court has told employers that they can rest easy, knowing that the bigger and more powerful they are, the less likely their employees will be able to join together to secure their rights," said Marcia Greenberg, of the National Women's Law Centre.

Shares in Wal-Mart, which owns the UK supermarket chain Asda, ticked up. A spokesman for the firm said it was "pleased" with the result, noting that the company "has had strong policies against discrimination for many years".

The suit began in 2000, when a "store greeter" from California called Betty Dukes claimed that despite six years of exemplary performance reviews, she had been denied training that would allow her to advance to a more senior position. In her complaint, Ms Dukes said that despite holding 80 per cent of poorly paid supervisory positions, female staff made up just 14 per cent of the firm's managers. Wal-Mart disputed many of her figures and denied that Ms Dukes had been subject to discrimination.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said the plaintiffs had failed to satisfactorily demonstrate a company-wide policy of discrimination. "In all, Wal-Mart operates approximately 3,400 stores and employs more than one million people," he wrote. "Because respondents wish to sue about literally millions of employment decisions at once, they need some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together."

The ruling, which prevents internal company documents from being made public during trial, is the latest example of the right-leaning court reaching a conservative view in a controversial test case. Last year, it voted to reform electoral finance laws to allow corporations to secretly give unlimited funds to political candidates of their choosing.

Yesterday, the court blocked a federal lawsuit by states and conservation groups trying to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It also refused to hear an appeal from ACORN, the left-leaning community group, over a recent law that banned it from receiving federal money.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor