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. Randy

    How can a lawsuit be too large to deal with but a megastore or a bank can't?

    June 20, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Fernando

      Apparently, big enough to discriminate, just too big to fail.

      Good ol' republucan supreme court will ALWAYS side with Big Business over the average working stiff.


      How much do YOU contribute to the GOP?

      June 20, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • neoritter

      @Fernando – failed to read the article I see. I was unanimous to throw the case out because of it's size.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      "it was basically unanimous that the case had to be thrown out" The same discrimination laws still exist. These people still have the ability to sue individually (or even in a smaller group). This is not "a vast right-wing conspiracy" Hillary.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • ActnJackson

      it would be impossible for them to prove that EVERY single woman EVER employed by WalMart was discriminated against. They actually have to provide evidence on individual cases. It was a ridiculous lawsuit to begin with. Even if it wasn't thrown out on sound bi-partisan legal grounds, there was no way it could be won. Doomed from the beginning!

      June 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • ActnJackson

      Also, your 'comparison' makes absolutely no sense.
      You are comparing two completely incompatible and unrelated things. You might as well say "How can our deficit being large be a bad thing, when a large GDP is good?". Just as nonsensical.

      June 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • THINK

      "United we stand, Divided we fall" says it all.

      June 21, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. kd

    So, basically, all you have to do is discriminate on a massive enough scale to remain untouched.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      Relax – the same discrimination laws are on the books.

      June 20, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • um...

      Precisely, welcome to the "Citizens United" era of the high court, where right-wing "pro business" ideology trumps fairness and equity for the middle and lower classes. Thanks, Dubya

      June 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike in NJ

      Yeah Trouble, same laws, different interpretation based on size. Makes perfect sense. "Separate, but equal." That worked out AOK, right?

      June 20, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg Hodges

      I don`t know who you are kd; but you got this 100% right. As a Canadian who can remember the days of John and Bobby Kennedy; I feel like weeping when I see the U.S. these days. Beginning with thew Reagan Revolution; it ia almost like a Star Wars plot; where the EMPIRE has descended using the DARK SIDE. Don`t mean to sound flippant; but these right wing fanatics like Scalia are 99% political idealogues, and 1% judicial. They stole the 2000 election for BUSH.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      Mike – don't let the facts get in the way of your argument. You need to re-read it, that's not what was said.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike (not the same one)

      Not a separate but equal situation. There is no "umbrella" of discrimination that ties EVERY woman EVER employed by Walmart together.

      Hope the women who were discriminated against sue Walmart individually or in smaller classes, and take them for every actual and punitive cent they can. But this lawsuit and what it was trying to do was overboard, and the 9-0 decision affirms that.

      June 20, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • ActnJackson

      Foolish statement. You can't just punish the people you feel are the 'bad', with complete disregard for the actual law. That is the first step towards totalitarianism.

      Class-action suits require EVERY plaintiff to have FACTUAL claims in COMMON.
      If there was evidence that for EVERY ONE of these women, less experienced men were promoted over them, then the suit would be justified.

      But just looking at statistics of women vs men in senior positions clearly fails the common factual claims requirement.
      Thats what the supreme court decided, Unanimously, Liberal and Conservative alike!

      June 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TRouble

    This case was a big mess that the Supreme Court cleared up 9-0. All it really means is that each individual can sue on their own vs. a 1.5 million person group.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  4. um...

    Score another WIN for the right-wing court.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      It was 9-0, so thank/balme all of them. Whatever your political agenda.

      June 20, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • ActnJackson

      Erm, don't forget the Left-Wing Justices on the court that voted UNANIMOUSLY with the Right.
      Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, & Kagan.

      5 justices were appointed by Republicans, but Kennedy is often regarded the swing vote, as he sometimes votes with the liberal block. Not exactly an overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court.

      But don't let the facts get in the way of your partisan slam!!

      June 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. suesark

    One more reason for me to NEVER shop at WalMart.....haven't been inside one in years!

    June 20, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. Adam Adam Atom

    First it was too big to fail for the banks, so we bailed them out, Now it is too big to sue. Only in America my friends. So as long as you discriminate in the tens of thousands its ok. But if you discriminate against two people you are in trouble. Could it possible be that Walmart has friends in high places? If it was a 9-0 decision it would be one thing but surprise surprise it is a 5-4 decision with the five including the ultra conservative hacks like John Roberts. As the great Eddie Vedder said "John Roberts, go find yourself another country to be part of".

    June 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Z

      It was essentially a 9-0 decision Mr. Research, with the only disagreements regarding the reasons the case should be thrown out

      June 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • ActnJackson

      The decision to throw the case out was UNANIMOUS. That means 9-0, if you need it broken down more.

      This was because the case clearly failed the common factual claims requirement for class-action suits.

      June 20, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Adam Adam Atom

    hey trouble, do you have a hard time reading, It was 5-4

    June 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      Sorry – must have googled the wrong thing.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      "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.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      It was 9-0 that the case had to be thrown out. It was 5-4 on which reason why.

      June 20, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • ActnJackson

      Think you are the one that had trouble reading. Justices agreed unanimously that the case had to be thrown out.

      June 20, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Randy IA

    Best reason I can see issues with this case. Think of the women who have been promoted through WM to level of mangagement. At some level, these women would have to be a plaintiff and a defendant of the same suit. How can that be? If you respond with, there aren't that many, I can respond with, how many were discriminated against in the same argument.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. joe

    Very simple fact, if this lawsuit had been allowed to go through it would have set a very bad precedent that could've bankrupted many businesses. Now these cases can be dealt with on a case by case basis and each case will be judged on its own merits.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anthony Caudill

      They deserved to be bankrupt. Those who discriminate have no right to prosper.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • ActnJackson

      Anthony, everyone, even groups of people forming corporations, have a right to a fair hearing under US law. Sorry if you find that inconvenient.

      June 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Truthwillsetyoufree

    Who were the Justices? Sounds like Clarence Thomas and the other GOP plants. Always protecting the wrong side. This country sucks right now. You people should be embarrassed that support this kind of crap.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      What crap? They have the right to sue individually if they want to. The Justices were unanimous in that.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      If you don't know who the Supreme Court Justices are, then maybe you need to pay attention to the news more often instead of getting it from Late Night comedy shows. Jeffrey Toobin says that it was a unanimous decision to throw out the case, meaning 9-0. The reasoning was a 5-4 decision. Whether or not you think it's a right-wing conspiracy...the judges made a unanimous decision that the case had to be thrown out. It's far too big a case to decide whether or not Wal-Mart descriminated against all women. The case would have been a loss, if it were based on the merits of all female workers...because you simply cannot prove that all women were treated the same. By throwing out the case, smaller cases can be filed based on discrimination...and the individual cases will more likely have a chance to be won. The Supreme Court made the right decision...not necessarily a pro-business, pro-Walmart decision. Walmart will still have to defend their case that they didn't discriminate. It'll end up costing them millions.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike in NJ

    I am amazed. This is absolute: If a company can ever be considered too big to be sued, it follows logically that it should not exist at that size AT ALL. WalMart should be broken up immediately based on this decision.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      I think you need to re-read the article. That's not what was said.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • ActnJackson

      No, If lawsuits are too big to make the case for their plaintiffs, then they should be split up into smaller individual lawsuits.

      Nowhere in the article did it say the company was 'too large to be sued'. Thats just silly.

      June 20, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. joe

    Do you people not GET the idea that it's businesses that create jobs or is that just too hard of a concept for you to grasp? BTW not every lawsuit is justifiable, there are plenty of lazy people out there looking for a free ride-some of them are class action lawyers too.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • BobInIrvine

      Joe, don't you get that WalMart is a business that DESTROYS US JOBS with its tactics? Don't you get that WalMart systemically provides sub-par benefits to its workers that results in many needing Medicaid, food stamps, and other taxpayer-funded aid?

      June 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • sw

      @BobinIrvine: By "sub-par" benefits, you are just say "non-union" right?

      otherwise, define "sub-par".

      June 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • ActnJackson

      Bob, so you think the Supreme Court should ignore the actual law in order to 'punish' bad-ole Walmart? If so, I don't think you have a clear understanding of that the SC actually does.

      June 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. kurtinco

    Another unbelievably pro-business decision by this court that leaves people at the mercy of mega corporations once again.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      You do understand that businesses and entrepreneurship create jobs and wealth right? Not gov't?!

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

      Imagine the SUPREME COURT actually making a decision based on precedent and the letter of the law! Unanimously no less! Where do they get the nerve?!

      June 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jim

    I'm happy Walmart won! The lawsuit was a bunch of nonsense.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. im2smart

    And you people are all 2 dumb! now get back in the welfare lines

    June 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
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