Toobin: 'Very good day in court for Wal-Mart'
Activists supporting efforts to allow a class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart hold signs in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
March 29th, 2011
07:52 PM ET

Toobin: 'Very good day in court for Wal-Mart'

The Supreme Court's conservative majority didn't appear impressed Tuesday with plaintiffs' arguments that more than 1 million female Wal-Mart workers, past and present, should be able to accuse the retailer of discrimination in one class-action lawsuit, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.

Though a ruling isn't expected until late June, the justices' reactions during oral arguments might portend a defeat for six plaintiffs who want to band with employees from across the country and make their accusations in a single, massive trial, Toobin said.

"I thought it was a very good day in court for Wal-Mart, and I would not be at all surprised if the whole case were thrown out after listening to the justices today,” Toobin said on "CNN Newsroom."

The Supreme Court is deciding whether the original lawsuit, in which six female Wal-Mart workers allege systemic discrimination in which the retailer paid women less than men and gave women fewer promotions, can be given class-action status.

A decision to allow such a large suit, with nearly 1.6 million potential plaintiffs, would represent an enormous litigation risk for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Should Wal-Mart lose such a suit, it could face tens of billions of dollars in damages.

But the Supreme Court's conservative justices appeared skeptical of arguments for allowing a class action, Toobin said.

Both sides concede that Wal-Mart has official policies barring discrimination against women and  listing diversity as an important value, Toobin said.

"What the plaintiffs' lawyers were saying (Tuesday) was that that policy was so vague that it gave local, individual store managers the opportunity to discriminate against women," Toobin said. "The more conservative justices on the court were saying, 'Well, if that’s the case, how can you try them all together? Because each store had a different set of circumstances. How can you do a class action when the policy is a fair one, a good one, and it’s only the individuals who were possibly discriminated against?'"

A decision to allow a class-action suit might lead Wal-Mart to try to settle the case to get the "enormous risk off its books," Toobin said.

"But after today, I think Wal-Mart will be a lot less willing to settle, because it looks like much or all of the case may be thrown out by what is an increasingly conservative Supreme Court," Toobin said.

- CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears and CNN's Randi Kaye contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Business • Courts • Justice • Lawsuit • Supreme Court
soundoff (234 Responses)
  1. Teen Age Mutant Ninja Rodent Bung Super/Fighters

    We love wall mart ! Rodent-bung super-fighting does'nt pay all that well these days so we need to stretch our dollars in any way possible does that make us bad ninja rodents? Because we shop at wall mart?

    March 29, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jeanne

    A boycott does not have to be all or nothing. Cutting back on Wal-Mart purchases by millions will make a dent. Another powerful consumer statement would be to send millions of letters to Michael T. Duke, President and Chief Executive Officer, Walmart Home Office, 702 SW 8th Street, Bentonville, Arkansas, 72716-8611. Wal-Mart does not want adverse publicity over this.

    March 29, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Henk in Colorado

    It's about time the rich corporations understand that if someone wants a promotion that they must get it.
    You drop out of high school and start working at Walmart at the age of 17, and they don't make you vice president by the time you're 20? The government must do something about that. Damned rich republicans .

    March 29, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • FED UP with WALMART

      Wake up HENK, it's not a republican issue so keep politics out of this. They're in the news often because of how poorly they treat their employees. Women being paid less as well as being bypassed for promotions is quite common. Yes, they have the cheapest prices which in this economy makes it touch to turn ones back to them. But putting a little less in thier pocket here and there will potentially kick this bad habit there and elsewhere. Lyons, grow up. You remind me of a low life drunk that treats his wife like a slave – probably beats her up 🙁

      March 29, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Speaking of drunk ,I can remember going to my car and my drunk sleeping store director in his car next to mine. Or going to the Library on my day off as he sits reading his paper for 3-4 hours a day as the underlings in the store took care of everything.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  4. lyons

    Walmart is the best place to shop. No company can beat their prices. If a bunch of no good, lazy women win a law suit like this, Walmart will incrase their prices and we will have to pay for it. So to help every one in this bad economic times, we need such dumb law suits kicked out and the dumb women be made to do some real work !!!

    March 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      You can either shop at Walmart and save money or get a second job to shop at Target!!

      March 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue

      I worked at wal mart fir18 years was let go because one manager was trying to get rid of all the old employers so they would not have to pay the older ones. And I'm not rich and needed my job. So I say they do discriminate against the older employees.

      March 29, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Actually Target is cheaper and they do treat their people better. To the women that was let go after 18 years, I am supprised they let you go, usually they get life insurance on older associates and when they die collect the insurance money.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. FED UP with WALMART

    If enough people boycott Walmart, they'll no longer be so high up in the corporate America. Would be a huge start in a huge change in this country.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bryan

      Well said !!

      March 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Have not shopped there in 7 years. I support locally owned food stores.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. Chris McNeil

    Target is noticeably more expensive than Walmart. If another company were large and influential enough to sell products at Walmart prices, they would probably have the same issues that Walmart has. So the solution is to either give in and shop at Walmart OR pay more money for products elsewhere.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Not true there are a lot of cheaper chain outlets

      March 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      Amen Chis,, Just because 6 women got ticked because they did not get a job they were qualified for it becomes a virus!

      March 29, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris McNeil

      What are these cheaper outlets, pray tell?

      March 29, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Aldi's is one. Just look in your local area of stores that are aong the route to work and shop at the smaller chains. Walmart is bias against women and if you are not management you are at the mercy of your napolionic manager. If you go to the regional man boss you are told that it is you that has the problem and you wonder why you even said anything at all. Then they find a way to write you up and don't let up. Working there is crap. There is not any representation for you if your fellow associate boss decides he doesn't like answering the phone, so he writes you up. Boycott Walmart and let small business' florish again.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  7. Roxy

    I wish I could be a part of this lawsuit. I was discriminated against big time when I worked for Wal-mart back in the 90's. I tried to talk to the regional manager about getting into the management training program and he cut me off and told me that I had to work my way up the ladder. I was 1 and 1/2 years out of college with a Management Science Degree. 2 weeks later there was a new manager in the store that was put in the training program and was fresh out of college. And guess what? He was male!!

    March 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • eb

      Maybe if you had applied directly to Wal Mart's management training program like that male trainee likely did once nearing the end of your college program you would have had better luck rather than starting at the very bottom. Just because you weren't selected after starting at the very bottom doesn't make it discrimination, just a bad career decision on your part.

      March 29, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      No Roxy is right. The position was not open when she entered Walmart and took a job, because they tout that they promote from within. There was a male guy who was marries and got a woman at his store pregnant, he was sent to our store, the woman was let go because she was pregnant, he was promoted which in direct violation of the no dating a coworker. And then the time the Store directors daughter was caught stealing, she was letting a guy she was dating not come into work but going into the computer in the H.R. department and clocking him in. She was fired from that job and rehired as a manager of the film department. she was 18-20 years old. These are the daily screwed up instances that I saw. These abuses happened on a daily basis.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Alyssa

      ScottishMama, maybe they do happen everyday, but the point that the court is trying to make is how are these offenses the responsibility of the corporate offices, and not of the individual stores/managers? They're also not saying that these 6 women can't sue individually. Just that they may not permit a class action suit of millions of women.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @Alysa The suit in the supreme court is that the numbers are too big and they are different kinds of discrimination and Walmart is claiming that it cannot be a class action suit.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  8. phoenixdogdays

    this will cheer you up after all these depressing news articles, trust me

    March 29, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. lejaune

    Can someone sue the United States for always electing men and not women to be the president?

    March 29, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dale Brenner

    There is absolutely no way that Walmart or anyone else will get a fair trial in a courtroom in San Francisco on an issue like this..

    A few years ago Ralph's super markets were in a trail on a similar subject. The judge was a woman's rights advocate with close ties to NOW who refused to recuse herself. You could simply not find a more biased individual both in appearance and actions. The ultra-liberal appeals court just looked the other way when the issue was raised to them. Whether there was actual bias maybe a matter of opinion. Maybe the judge isn't as corrupt as I am making her out. Maybe she is.

    But the appearance of bias is a matter of fact. And for both the sitting judge and the appeals court to ignore it demonstrates my point.

    The blatant lack of character of the sitting judge on the Ralph's case corrupts the entire system

    March 29, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mbzarl

    So, it sounds like if you just discriminate against a large enough number of people, you get to break the law because the big numbers are scarry to jurists.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tonyS

    Walmart has not put a single store out of business – it's the shoppers who choose to shop there that do it. Apparently, Walmart is doing something right.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • T3chsupport

      Yeah, employing slave labor, so they can pass on the savings to the consumer!

      March 29, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dennis

    From the comments on here it's obvious none of you read the article or understood what's happening. Walmart has a very good policy HOWEVER it appears that some store managers may be ignoring that policy. It is not the fault of WALMART but the fault of the individual managers doing the hiring. Therefore if the plaintiffs want to file suit it's looking like they'll have to do so individually against the policies of the store manager or that particular store. Not all women working at Walmart have suffered to do a Walmart wide policy. Read. Understand. Think. It's not a painful process.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Silence gives consent, Dennis. The store managers are the hired officials and bonafide representatives of wal-mart corp hired to conduct walmart's business and stores. Your attempt to separate the one and the same is ridiculous.

      March 29, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Mmmmm I could not have said it better.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  14. Planck

    A republican majority supporting a large corporation.

    Someone wake me up when something new happens.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ernie

    Ok, we live in a "free country" sort of, but the fact is this; if I agree to work for someone, but don't like the way they run their business, I can quit. Why do we want to make all employers the "enemy". Or is just the non-union employers that are branded as "bad"? This endless lawsuit 'industry' is costing us jobs & making the "bottom feeding lawyers" rich at everyones expense.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
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