Is it just me or do you guys out there also cringe at the idea of class action lawsuits? For some reason, since I was a kid I always thought of them as frivolous suits lacking any credibility. I think it’s because for me, they play into the whole greedy lawyer stereotype since it always seemed like the huge award judgments always ended up going mostly to the attorneys. That and what kind of lawyer would ever be altruistic enough to want to sue on behalf of anyone out of the goodness of their hearts simply because they want to correct a wrong?
Well, apparently that’s what the lawyers in the Walmart sex discrimination class action lawsuit are trying to get the US Supreme Court to believe. Or rather more specifically, they’re just trying to get their foot in the door first.
In case, dear reader, you happen to be like most people and are bored out of your mind by news stories revolving entirely around legal intricacies, let me give you the short version of this Walmart debacle.
Essentially, the big box retailer has been accused by its female employees of discrimination against its women workers. Among the allegations are that Walmart pays its female employees less compare to males in the same position, denies promotions to qualified female employees, and a host of other gender-based discriminatory employment practices. Though these same accusations can arguably be applied to all American businesses in general, what sets the Walmart case apart is that the plaintiffs allege the company actively employed these discriminatory practices as part of its regular corporate policies. That and the number of plaintiffs in this class action suit clocks in at over 1.5 million female employees.
Still not impressed? What if I told you that if this case is allowed to go forward it would be the biggest class action lawsuit ever and could potentially change how class action lawsuits are litigated? Still not enough, huh? How about if I told you it could also mean it would make it a lot easier for you to line your pockets with some green?
Oh, now you’re all interested. Hmph… Well maybe I suddenly don’t feel like telling you more about this stuff. Wait, wait, don’t go. I’m just joking. Please stay and placate my need for attention…
Anyway, personal abandonment issues aside, if the US Supreme Court certifies the Walmart plaintiffs as a class and allows the lawsuit to go forward, it would be the largest class action lawsuit ever litigated. The reason this can mean big bucks for everyone else is because it would set a precedent that would make pursuing class action lawsuits much easier. This means that if more lawyers can bring these types of suits for indiscriminately large classes of plaintiff’s, there’s a higher chance that a lot more people can be included in these types of suits and recover some money.
However, the problem is that the Walmart class action lawsuit has no way in hell of going forward.
Why? It’s not just because the class action is too big. After all, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23, which governs class actions in federal courts, is designed to allow a lot of people to sue as a group regardless of their size.
The issue is getting certified as a class, which is the problem that the Supreme Court is now reviewing for the Walmart case.
Unlike normal lawsuits where one or multiple individuals hire an attorney to sue on their behalf, in class actions a lawyer brings a lawsuit on behalf of a group of people without being hired. In order to do this however, the plaintiffs must be certified as a class, or in other words, the court must determine that these plaintiffs are all sufficiently similar to each other and suffer similar harm arising from the same defendant. The legal term for this is that the plaintiffs must be “similarly situated.”
Now, on the surface the plaintiffs in the Walmart case appear to meet this similarly situated requirement since they are all women and claim to have suffered gender discrimination. However, the way the class action certification process operates is a bit more involved than this because it is designed to narrow down a class using a number of factors. Without getting too bogged down in each one, the process essentially would split the plaintiffs into smaller groups since not all the female employees are of the same age or employment level. Thus this seemingly simple class certification process becomes all the more complicated and as it stands cannot go forward.
And though this may sound like a bad thing since it could potentially deprive you of money, it actually isn’t because this precedent would make class action lawsuits way too easy to start and in turn, bog down our justice system in needless litigation. And we can all agree unnecessary litigation is the bane of our country’s existence, right?