July 7, 2011
By Harry Kelber
The Supreme Court decision, seen as a victory for Wal-Mart and Corporate America, makes it more difficult for employees to join together in a common lawsuit, unless they can identify a common injury. In a ruling on a secondary aspect of the case, all nine justices agreed that the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco erred in allowing the mass action suit to move forward on claims seeking back pay.
Writing for five members of the Court, Justice Antonin Scalia said that under federal rules of civil procedure, the class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart should not have been approved because it lacked a single common question tying each employee’s claim for efficient resolution in a single trial.
The Wal-Mart litigation is not necessarily over. The female employees can file individual lawsuits claiming discrimination and seeking back pay. They could also break down the massive lawsuit into smaller, more focused lawsuits.