The Supreme Court’s 9 to 0 decision today in Wal-Mart v. Dukes stopped an abusive class action lawsuit and should bring a huge sigh of relief that the plaintiffs’ bar was stopped from further exploiting employers who create jobs. Although the administration will probably never publicly admit it given its strong allegiance to plaintiffs’ lawyers and their massive campaign contributions, they should also be relieved since a contrary decision against America’s largest retailer (a long-time Heritage Foundation donor) could have hurt our struggling economy.
The Court, in a decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia, reversed the Ninth Circuit (no surprise – the Ninth Circuit is almost always reversed), which had certified a nation-wide, class action lawsuit by current and former Wal-Mart employees. Three women wanted to be certified to represent 1.5 million Wal-Mart employees, claiming that the retailer had discriminated on the basis of their sex by denying them equal pay or promotions But the Court held that the federal rule governing class action lawsuits requires a common issue of fact or law that predominates the issues raised in a lawsuit and whose resolution will resolve the claim of every member of the class. The plaintiffs could not show such commonality in the present case.
The Court approvingly cited the dissenting opinion of Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit that the potential Wal-Mart employees “held a multitude of different jobs, at different levels of Wal-Mart’s hierarchy, for variable lengths of time, in 3,400 stores, sprinkled across 50 states, with a kaleidoscope of supervisors (male and female), subject to a variety of regional policies that all differed . . . Some thrived while others did poorly. They have little in common but their sex and this lawsuit.”
The four liberal justices led by Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed that the class of Wal-Mart plaintiffs had been improperly certified. But Ginsburg claimed that the Court erred in entirely disqualifying the class and dismissing the lawsuit, arguing that the Court should have sent the case back to the lower courts to consider whether the common class questions might “predominate” over individual issues in accordance with the federal rule.
No doubt liberal media outlets will paint this as a 5 to 4 decision by the conservative justices of the Court, ignoring the fact that all nine justice agreed on the main, substantive issue – that the lower court ruling in the class action lawsuit was improper. The liberal justices simply disagreed on what to do to fix what the lower courts had done wrong.
But Justice Scalia’s opinion is the correct decision based on the applicable legal standard. And the result has the added economic benefit of preventing damage to a company that is one of the largest private employers in the United States, providing jobs for more than 1.4 million people in the United States and 2.1 million worldwide. A good day at the Supreme Court for both the law and our economy.