Toobin: High Court addressed only class size, not discrimination, in Wal-Mart suit
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a class-action lawsuit involving hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs was simply too large.
June 20th, 2011
11:41 AM ET

Toobin: High Court addressed only class size, not discrimination, in Wal-Mart suit

The Supreme Court on Monday put the brakes on a massive job discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart.  The suit was the largest class-action suit in U.S. history - and, says Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior legal analyst, therein lies the problem.

Toobin, who was in the courtroom for opening arguments in March, spoke on "CNN Newsroom" after the high court's ruling was announced.  He shared his initial impressions of the ruling and noted that he was still reading the "complicated" decision.

He said the class-action status - potentially involving hundreds of thousands of female workers - was too large.

"The Supreme Court has basically said this is too big a case," Toobin said. "The facts are so different regarding each of the plaintiffs that it’s not fair to Wal-Mart to lump them into one case."

The decision in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes (10-277) did not represent the usual political divisions within the high court, Toobin said. The nine justices simply thought the class was too big under the rules governing class-action suits.

"The decision was 5-4, in part, but it was basically unanimous that the case had to be thrown out," Toobin said, adding that the court did not rule on whether Wal-Mart had ever discriminated.

The ruling was not a surprise. In March, Toobin predicted the case would be thrown out, based on the Supreme Court justices' responses to oral arguments.

The case could be resuscitated, Toobin said, but attorneys would have to "figure out another way to get the courts to consider the possibility that there was enormous gender discrimination at Wal-Mart."

"That conversation will continue. This lawsuit in its current form will not," he added, saying the lawsuit could be reconfigured into several smaller lawsuits, which would pose less of a threat to Wal-Mart.

"This was a case that even a company as big as Wal-Mart had to fear in terms of the financial repercussions. But now, they don't have to fear that any more, and Wal-Mart and its directors are certainly breathing very easy today," Toobin said.

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Filed under: Courts • Justice • Lawsuit • Supreme Court • U.S.
soundoff (189 Responses)
  1. foreverwar

    I've always believed Walmart applies thier unfair wages and lousy working conditions on an equal basis.

    June 20, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ryan

    Another win for the good guys. (Real traditional American's) Can we just go back to the 1950's already when this country was a %100 awesome!

    June 20, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • hippediva

      you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joan

      You obviously do not have a daughter or wife working for Walmart who has career hopes.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mikey*

      What planet were you on?? Did you live in the 50's? It was not perfect! We had Yhe big red scare! McCarthyism, Korean War, segregation, things were not perfect

      June 20, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      The 1950's were a racist era of Jim Crow laws.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Ah, the 1950s, where if you were a straight, white, protestant, white-collar male, everything was awesome! Except for war overseas in Korea, the growing and eminent threat of nuclear war by Russia, and that dang-gone-it Rock and Roll fad.

      June 20, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. maggy519

    Well, I want to know how each individual justice voted. Where is that CNN?

    June 20, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Camp

      They all voted against it. Five justices thought there were three reasons it should be thrown out, four justices thought there were only two reasons. All Walmart needed was one reason.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. maine liberal

    bring 50 class action suits one for each state.
    The corporate activism of this court remains unchecked.

    June 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ruth

    I have to agree with the judges. By looking at each case separately they will bea ble to award more money to women who deserve it, and leave out the scammers who are trying to piggy back the law suit.

    June 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. palintwit

    I've heard that Walmart ' shoppers' write on the restroom walls with their feces.

    June 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. hippediva

    What a surprise! Our corporate court opted to flake rather than deliver a judgment against their overlords. So much for 'justice'.

    June 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. conradshull

    Hmm, the suit was brought by a store greeter. What was the nature of the blocked career path, I wonder?

    June 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Adam

    Well, this is quite surprising. Looking around any given Walmart one would be shocked that they discriminate against anything with a pulse. Discrimination? Really? I'd be willing to bet that no company in america routinely hires the unhireable more than Walmart.

    June 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      To be honest, I've found the WalMart employees much more reasonable than some of the strangest customers.

      June 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lou

    Lots of folks here don't understand what the court said. All they said was that if each individual manager is responsible for hiring, firing and pay scale, then plaintiffs can't file a class action against Wal Mart. But too many posts here are decrying the evil that is Wal Mart. Each of these individuals are still free to pursue discrimination cases on their own.

    June 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Great Wall Of China Mart

    So if a company is big enough and does something negative that affects a great many employees because of it's size – it gets a pass on class action suits against it. An "I'm sorry but they're just too big, powerful and rich to be sued" status. Great precedent. Who wants women to get equal pay or treatment anyway – let's just kick this case down the road over and over. I expected no less from this court...

    June 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom

    I think I get it. Discrimination is illegal, unless the discrimination is on a mass scale, and the company being sued can afford the best lawyers on earth to create the impression in the Spreme Court that billion dollar companies have no legal responsibilities.

    June 20, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. scottf

    TOO BIG TO FAIL. When the Republicans sell off pieces of the United States to the highest bidder please sign me up as a shareholder. By the way have all of the members of Congress that were here during the Bush fiasco developed sudden memory loss? Oh! and I also believe in the Easter Bunny just like Bachman, Perry, and Palin!!

    June 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Josh

    Would hundreds of thousands of individual cases really be easier to handle for this lower court?

    June 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. sw

    The anti-Wal*Mart people are out in force.

    If people actually ever took the time to READ they will know that the discrimination suits can continue, they just can not be lumped together. If a woman or man thinks they were discriminated against, they can file suit against the person/people involved.

    June 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
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