Court decision could safeguard corporations from class action suit

In U.S. Supreme Court case, Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the court is considering whether thousands of employees can join together in a single case to sue their employer for discrimination.

Though the Supreme Court may not reach a decision on the Dukes until the end of June, plaintiff Betty Dukes has already seen some positive change since she brought her claim to court, alleging that Wal-Mart is guilty of sex discrimination in pay, promotion opportunities and hiring practices for female employees.

“I have personally been thanked by women who have been promoted,” Dukes said to The Nation in a March 30 article. Dukes, who is still a Wal-Mart employee, also said that the suit has brought much scrutiny to Wal-Mart’s institutional practices and that the corporation has made information regarding promotions more available to women and integrated women into its management personnel.

The Supreme Court is not being asked to consider whether Wal-Mart was guilty of sex discrimination. Rather, the question before the court is whether Dukes can pursue her case as a class-action lawsuit.

Public Citizen filed an amicus brief in support of Dukes and the hundreds of thousands of women represented in her class. Consumers Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers, as well as many other groups, also submitted briefs supporting Dukes.

Wal-Mart is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, Microsoft and Costco. Organizations such as the Washington Legal Foundation, Atlantic Legal Foundation and New England Legal Foundation have also united behind Wal-Mart in its effort to prevent Dukes from seeking to hold Wal-Mart accountable through a class action.

If the Supreme Court strikes down Dukes’ ability to proceed with a class-action suit, it could limit workers’ ability to challenge corporate authority and make it more difficult for employees to enforce the civil rights laws.

The Nation concluded, “The class action may be a feeble instrument of justice, but it’s one of the few we have left, and that’s why [the corporate elite is] so eager to take it away.”

Emily Kleiman in an intern in Public Citizen’s communications office.