Big ruling today by the U.S. Supreme Court in the appeal by Walmart of certification of a class action in a sex discrimination lawsuit covering 1.5 million employees.

The court reversed the broad class action determination. The opinion is splintered in some respects between the conservative and liberal wings of the court, but all justices agreed on the core issue. Plaintiffs may pursue claims individually, but they won’t have nearly the clout the class had in pressing the company.


Here’s the opinion. Antonin Scalia wrote it. The opinion said, generally, that plaintiffs had presented INsufficient proof that the entire company operated under a discriminatory policy, whatever overall statistics might show (hourly jobs are 70 percent female; management jobs only 33 percent), and that even where individual stores or groups of stores might have suggestive statistics, managers might argue local conditions explained fewer women in higher paying jobs.

Four justices — Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan — dissented. Though they’d have had further lower court hearings before certifying a class action, they said plaintiffs had presented arguable points on discriminatory practices at Walmart, evidence that suggested that “gender bias suffused Walmart’s company culture.” The court majority said, essentially, however, that the group could never prove a “commonality” argument.


Said the minority:

The plaintiffs’ allegations state claims of gender discrimination in the form of biased decisionmaking in both pay and promotions. The evidence reviewed by the District Court adequately demonstrated that resolving those claims would necessitate examination of particular policies and practices alleged to affect, adversely and globally, women employed at Wal-Mart’s stores.

Won’t happen now in just that way. But plaintiffs haven’t quit fighting. Their statement: