Monday, May 30, 2011

Wal-Mart's war on women

"This case stands for the collective right of every working woman to be paid what her work is worth." --Arcelia Hurtado, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates and plaintiff's co-council, Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether what could potentially be the largest class action lawsuit in U.S. history can actually go forward as a class action suit -- despite lower court rulings that granted class certification to the case.

It's been a decade since Betty Dukes filed suit against giant retailer Walmart, claiming that,"Wal-Mart discriminates against its female employees in making promotions, job assignments, pay decisions and training, and retaliates against women who complain against such practices."

In an interview with PBS Newshour's Gwen Ifill, Marcia Coyle of "The National Law Review" explains what a class action suit is and what's at issue in Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.:

"Most lawsuits are filed by individuals, but sometimes, a group or a large number of people may be injured by the same defendant, company, person, and it's worth their while in terms of efficiency and cost to try to join together to bring a lawsuit seeking some kind of remedy for their injury,. And that's when they will turn to the class-action device.

"There are specific federal rules that judges must examine to decide whether that device works for this group of people. Its -- the rules are important to ensure fairness to the people who want to be part of the class, that their claims are going to be adequately represented, and also fairness to the defendant.
And the court itself, can it handle the class, depending on the size and the claims involved?"

In the same interview, Coyle said, "The court is focused on the rules for forming class actions. Wal-Mart's attorney Theodore Boutrous ...  said Betty Dukes and the other five women who want to represent this class don't have claims that are typical of all the women that would be up to half-a-million women who might be a part of this class.

"He also said that they had to show that there was some sort of a company-wide policy or practice that was across the board, all the stores -- Wal-Mart has over 3,000 stores -- and that would show that they had a common fact that linked them, that made them cohesive as a group to be class, and they did not show that."

Some feminist labor advocates believe that Wal-Mart wants is for each woman to file separately because they know many would drop their cases without the benefit of the class action device.

Corporations, civil rights groups and consumer groups will be watching this pivotal decision carefully.

In the meantime, here's a documentary that brings to light the fact that Wal-Mart's low prices come with a high cost of their own:

Related Links:

Supreme Court Hears Wal-Mart Gender Bias Discrimination Case (PBS Newshour)

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