In dismissing the Wal-Mart class action, the majority justices determined that the 1.5 million members of the suing class lacked enough in common to justify conducting the litigation as a single, huge class-action lawsuit rather than as smaller, more focused, class actions, or individual suits.
“This decision makes it difficult for employees to use class actions for employment-discrimination claims unless they can point to a company-wide discriminatory policy,” Howard Erichson, a professor at Fordham Law School, said in a statement.
Other analysts said the decision closes a loophole that some plaintiffs' lawyers were exploiting to bypass tough restrictions on class-action litigation.
“Many class-action lawyers had smuggled damages class actions into court through the lenient standards for injunctive class actions,” said Vanderbilt Law Professor Brian Fitzpatrick in a statement. “The opinion today closes this loophole.”
“Courts will now have more leeway to refuse to certify class actions when they believe at the outset of the case that the case is unlikely to succeed,” he said.
“The conservative majority thought the evidence was very skimpy in this case, and this quite explicitly colored its view of whether the women shared a common question,” said Professor Fitzpatrick.
In the majority decision, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that there was no evidence that Wal-Mart operated under a general policy of discrimination that affected all 1.5 million female workers. Instead, he said, Wal-Mart’s stated policy required equal employment opportunity.
The only evidence a discriminatory policy was the testimony of a sociologist who said Wal-Mart maintained a strong corporate culture that was vulnerable to gender bias, Justice Scalia said.