“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.”
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.”
She added, “The women of Wal-Mart – together with women everywhere – will now face a far steeper road to challenge and correct pay and other forms of discrimination in the workplace.”
The Wal-Mart litigation is not necessarily over. The female employees can file individual lawsuits claiming discrimination and seeking back pay. They could also break the massive lawsuit down into smaller, more focused lawsuits.
In reaching its decision, the high court rejected what it called “Trial by Formula.”
Writing for five members of the court, Justice Antonin Scalia said that under federal rules of civil procedure the class action lawsuit again Wal-Mart should not have been approved because it lacked a single common question tying each employee’s claims together for efficient resolution in a single trial.
“Here respondents wish to sue about literally millions of employment decisions at once,” Justice Scalia wrote. “Without some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims for relief will produce a common answer to the crucial question why was I disfavored.”