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. joe

    Yeah Bob and you'll be the first one in line on black friday waiting for them to open.

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

    Wow too big to fail too big to sue why don't we just say the judges and the politicians just get too big of bribes!

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

      Too big to fail, too big to jail, and too big to assail.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Think B4 U Post

      @ Jon: Thank U! There's also this: Would I avail if I were male?

      June 20, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shinea

      Either that or Walmart didn't discriminate against every singe female it ever hired.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heywood Jablome

      Just goes to show you that the tail always gets it in the end.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. The Real Sarah Palin

    Only bumpkins like me shop at Walmart.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. joe

    You really think mom and pop stores pay better and offer better health care for their workers-get real.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. vinny

    Read the article. It just says that you cant have thousands of people lumped into one court case, when alot of them are completely different. People nowadays seem to really hate businesses or people with money. No wonder why all the jobs are being outsourced and the wealthy are leaving the country

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

      No, Vinney what people don't like about businesses are the facts that they're rolling in the dough and making a ton of money building new stores and still have enough for the CEO's to buy 20 sports cars, 10 mansions and hardly pay any taxes. And the workers who bust hump every day only make minimum wage. That's why people don't like businesses. And anyone who uses the excuse that they have to work hard and stop being lazy just doesn't see the real picture. People understand they have to work hard. And people realize that they have to save their money. But, you can't save money with 2 kids and a place to live making minimum wage. It's impossible! I mean people find a way to survive! But, it's damn near impossible. And as for Joe well there's no cure for stupid. Obviously, the man is so full of himself and I'm sure he's a Jesus freak and doesn't realize he's going against the almighty Jesus's word.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • miguel

      Vinny, people hate businesses because they are acting like sicopathic thugs. The jobs are leaving the country because the wealthy owned businesses (top 5% own like 40% of the stock market wealth) are trying to save a buck, even if it makes their country/state/county/city/neiborhood worse off. Wealthy people are leaving the country because the country is going downhill and it is no longer the nice decent place to live that it used to be.
      The bottom line is that Wall mart, one of the more thuggish corportricians out there, will have an easier time wearing/wait out those seeking redress. Bottom line, the little guys got screwed again, the corporatocrazy won again.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jo

      Oh please! Look at the statistics. The rich are not struggling in this country. The rich are getting much richer and have been for a long time. It is actually the opposite. More wealth is moving in as people outside of this country buy up property, land, businesses etc. However, many of the businesses that started here have simply moved their manufacturing and many other services overseas because the labor is cheaper. They (the wealthy) remain living happily in this country since most other western industrialized nations would take a much larger portion of their profits in taxes to pay for their countries social services. Social services such as child care, education, roads, elder care, unemployment, subsidies etc. You know, the kind of services that show a country believes that it's working class people (the majority in almost any country) matter and are respected. The rich in this country have a gravy train. The jobs may be leaving, but they aren't going anywhere.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. CSnSC

    Yes, no business in the US should be allowed to make a profit. The libs are right,close every business now !

    June 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      That's a ludicrous straw argument. Liberals are fine with companies making profits in a responsible manner. Do you think discrimination is OK? The argument that companies couldn't possibly make a profit unless they can pollute, discriminate, avoid taxes, and operate in a reckless manner that endangers the economy (as the financial sector did a few years ago) is the argument that sane people reject.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      When they cause all other jobs to dwindle just to pay out a less than poverty level wage, this lib has a problem. There are a lot of people with a strong work ethic, conservative and liberal, that just watched millions of jobs vanish at the hands of the ultra rich. So come down off your Fox news statement.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      What a ridiculous statement. I'm an independent, tend to lean more left; but who are you to say I don't like profit or for that matter religion? Since when does the right seem to think they are the keepers of capitalism and God, what a joke. And Liberals do themselves no justice in passively allowing this garbage to continue. Why dont they fight these arguments.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • maggy519

      Oh you love those oil subsidies. They really need my tax dollars you know.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      I agree with Maggie but take it a step further to stop public funding/subsidies for NPR, the NEA, USPS, farmers, ranchers, airlines, car manufacturers, as well as the housing and banking industries. Let them fail and something new and better will rise from the ashes.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. joe

    @vinny: @TRouble: it's impossible to reason with lazy, shiftless, dunce people. You're just wasting your time trying.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      Thanks Joe – lol

      June 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. palintwit

    Big Palin for President rally tonight at Walmart. Frre box of ammo for everyone.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • biggy

      watch out the ammo from walmart probably won't work

      June 20, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Adam Adam Atom

    I'm not sure how essentially 9-0 equals 5-4. The fact is that the decision was 5-4. That is the way it is reflected on the docket. Personally It would not matter to me if it was 9-0, the idea that too many people in a suit make it hard for the company to defend is ridiculous.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      What they actually said in the majority opinion (this article just gives a very high-level view of a very detailed opinion by the court) was that with the size and geographic locations of Wal-Mart, they would need more proof of an actual policy or direction of discrimination against women to proceed with the case like this. In order for every manager at every store to discriminate against females (which the lawsuit contends as it includes all present and past female employees), there would have to be a policy in place to have that kind of consistency across the board. The court wants evidence of that to hear this case, and the accusing lawyers don't have that evidence.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      It isn't really. The problem is if they are found to have discriminated against one and only one person in the entire suit, Wal-Mart could lose the entire case and have to pay all of the thousands of claimants, even if the others were never affected. The point is to break it down into smaller suits, perhaps organized by location. This way at least the claimants have something in common with each other, and each case can be heard based on its merits.

      It could have been bad for the claimants too. If Wal-Mart was able to prove their wasn't mass discrimination, those that truly were discriminated will lose the suit with the rest of them, and also would have forfeit the right to sue independantly.

      One last thing, with class actions that large, only the lawyers truly profit. The lawyers take a percentage off the top so it's best for them to lump as many together in one suit and try to force a settlement. In a hypothetical situation where there is 1000 claimants and a 1,000,000 dollar award with 30% going to legal fees, the lawyers get $300,000, and the claiments get $600 each.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Scott

    Well then what are the rules regarding the size of a class for a class action suit? I don't get it. I mean if you victimize enough people they cannot come together as a group that is wronged by the policies of the accused? I am all for fairness, sure but how exactly is justice served here? Does this ruling mean that instead of one class action suit there will need to be 100,000 separate law suits from people who have been discriminated against?

    June 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Yes, unless there's some demonstration of an actual policy by the company as discriminatory against women... otherwise it's on a case by case basis for each incident which may have occurred at a particular location. Just because something may have happened several times at several location does not mean it occurred against every female at every location... and therefore it's not class action material.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rudy Gonzales

    Congress needs to address this issue since they addressed the "Too big to fail" prior to the recession! It's a given fact the the high court has been bought!

    June 20, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • maggy519

      "Too big to fail" was addressed long after the recession had started. The recession started in 2007.
      Financial reform was passed in 2009.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Aaron

    Class actions lawsuits only make attorneys rich.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Don F.

    Walmart needs to be careful for what it wishes. If having a single case with lots of plaintiffs is deemed unmanageable, then the alternative is lots of cases with lots of plaintiffs.

    It seems to me that perhaps the justices are saying simply that the case is too big to adjudicate.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      No, the media is saying this is too big to adjudicate. The justices clearly said that this isn't a "class" by the definition of what a class is in a class-action lawsuit (group of similar individuals who were all affected the same way).

      June 20, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. RinMaine

    On that basis the SC would declare that slavery is legal because it involves too many people to be declared to be illegal.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      The media is saying this case was too big to be legal. The justices clearly said that this isn't a "class" by the definition of what a class is in a class-action lawsuit (group of similar individuals who were all affected the same way).

      June 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. j jones

    f-k wal mart and the high court looks like they got payed off lets boycot walmart

    June 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRouble

      Now there's an elitist rearing his/her ugly head that doesn't want the poor to have access to the "low price" products and services Walmart brings to the market.

      June 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
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