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Walmart Ruling Changes Class Action Lawsuits

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Aired 6/21/11

A San Diego Law Professor said the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to remove class action status from a massive labor discrimination lawsuit against Walmart makes it harder to hold large companies accountable.

— The U.S. Supreme Court disallowed class action status for a lawsuit alleging Walmart discriminated against its female employees.

The court did not rule on the merits of the case brought on behalf of as many as 1.6 million women. However, the justices said the women can not sue as one group and the impact of that ruling will be felt beyond this case.

"It's an unfortunate step backwards, I think, for class actions in general and pattern and practice employment discrimination cases in particular," said Susan Bisom-Rapp, a law professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

Walmart Ruling Changes Class Action Lawsuits
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The court's conservative majority said there need to be common elements to tie together the cases of so many workers. The jurists agreed with the company that the circumstances of all those workers weren't similar enough to warrant a group lawsuit.

"Tools for confronting this mega corporation, this transnational corporation are increasing ineffective the larger it gets," said Bisom-Rapp.

The workers can refile the lawsuit, but it will likely be in much smaller groups. The women who field the initial lawsuit promise to press ahead.

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