Today’s Lesson: You can get away with it if you get the scale right.

That is, don’t just deprive a few people of their just deserts.

From CNN:

The Supreme Court put the brakes on a massive job discrimination lawsuit against mega-retailer Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., saying sweeping class-action status that could potentially involve hundreds of thousands of current and former female workers was simply too large.

The ruling Monday was a big victory for the nation’s largest private employer, and the business community at large.

6 thoughts on “Today’s Lesson: You can get away with it if you get the scale right.

  1. Oops. I was too quick off the mark in my comment on the last post. But honest, this has got to be the priority: discrimination in employment is the most serious issue women face when it comes to overall quality of life. It’s also an issue for many more women than, e.g. abortion or anything else. Almost all women at some time in their lives are forced to do pink-collar shit work, if only occasional waitressing while in college. And most women are still forced to do it on a long term basis. A few elite traditionally male occupations in management and the professions are now open to a few highly educated women. But the many ordinary jobs that non-elite males do, including blue collar jobs, are de facto closed to women who are forced into boring, boring, confining, constraining pink-collar work.

  2. JJ, thanks for this. I was hoping someone at FP would post about the decision. Discrimination against women at Wal-Mart is, however, only one of the company’s unethical and criminal activities which include racist discrimination, monumental efforts to quash worker unionizing, operating sweatshops in Asia, refusal to pay overtime wages for overtime work, and environmental contamination.

    A good primer for Wal-Mart and business ethics is the film “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices”.

  3. That’s not the lesson here. This opinion doesn’t mean at all that Wal-Mart got away with discrimination because it discriminated against a sufficiently large number of people. Remember that a class action suit allows a relatively small number of people to take it upon themselves to represent other potential plaintiffs, which can end up potentially depriving the other class members of valuable legal rights (such as the right to bring their own lawsuits, or show individual evidence of their own damages). Class actions are an exception to the general rules for redressing wrongs in the judicial system. For this reason among others, the rules for when a “class” can be “certified” – i.e. where the courts will empower the lawyers of a small number of plaintiffs to administer the rights of a huge number of people who aren’t necessarily even meaningfully consulted – are fairly narrow and well-established (also fairly technical), and this case just didn’t meet them (it says something that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously here). It was a clear overreach by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who stood to reap a huge benefit if the lawsuit succeeded in attaining class-action status and quite possibly would have prejudiced the interests of people who may actually have been discriminated against by Wal-Mart – since the broader the plaintiff class in a class action, the more likely the people who suffered most will receive a disproportionately small compensation.

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