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Supreme Court dismisses women's class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart

The Supreme Court decision, seen as a victory for Wal-Mart and corporate America, makes it more difficult for employees to join together in a common lawsuit unless they are able to identify a common injury.

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A Wal-Mart worker pull carts at a Wal-Mart store in Pittsburg Calif., on Monday, June 20. A worker at this Wal-Mart was involved in a sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart. The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the largest gender discrimination class action lawsuit in history.

Paul Sakuma/AP

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In a major victory for Wal-Mart and much of corporate America, the US Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the largest gender discrimination class action lawsuit in history.

In a 5 to 4 opinion, the justices reversed a lower court decision allowing as many as 1.5 million female workers to sue the nation’s biggest private employer for back pay and punitive damages that could have totaled billions of dollars.

The decision makes it more difficult for employees and others to join together in a common lawsuit unless they are able to clearly identify a common injury, such as a company-wide discriminatory policy.

In a ruling on a secondary aspect of the case, all nine justices agreed that the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco erred in allowing the massive class action lawsuit to move forward on claims seeking back pay.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling should surprise no one,” said Anthony Sabino, a law professor at St. John’s University. “Class actions are predicated on ‘common questions.’ A class of millions of disgruntled employees is just too vast to present a handful of questions that are fundamental to each and every one of them,” he said. “This is especially true for employment decisions that turn on so many idiosyncrasies of individual workers and their managers.”

'Far steeper road'

Marcia Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center called the ruling “a devastating decision undoing the rights of millions of women across the country to come together and hold their employers accountable for their discriminatory practices.”

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