Supreme Court Hears Wal-Mart Case

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

For the past 11 years, 1.5 million women have been taking on the world’s largest corporation, Wal-Mart, for what they claim is a corporate practice of gender discrimination. The case would be the largest employment discrimination suit in U.S. history, damages could be in the billions, and the whole process has already dragged on over a decade. But whether that suit will ever be heard in court still has to be decided. Today the United States Supreme Court will hear argument in Wal-Mart vs. Dukes. Their task is to decide whether such a large and diverse group of people — working for shops across the country — can even be considered a “class” and therefore capable of raising a claim.

To explain what impact this case will have is Jeffrey Rosen, professor of law at George Washington University. Stephen Tinkler, is co-council for the plaintiffs and Stephanie Odle, a former Wal-Mart employee is one of the first plaintiffs on the case. They help explain what happened and how the case has progressed.

Guests:

Stephanie Odle, Jeffrey Rosen and Stephen Tinkler

Comments [1]

Charles

The first sentence of this story -- the lede that was repeated several times throughout the broadcast -- was, "For the past 11 years, 1.5 million women have been taking on the world’s largest corporation, Wal-Mart, for what they claim is a corporate practice of gender discrimination."

I think that statement is flatly untrue, but The Takeaway can correct me if I am mistaken.

In fact, there are a few named-plaintiffs, and a few lawyers, who are seeking to "certify" a class of plaintiffs that might be as large as 1.5 million. Many of that 1.5 million have no personal "claim" at all; many of them probably have no clue as to the existence of the lawsuits or the Supreme Court arguements, and may not feel that there's been any discrimination.

That's a technical issue, I suppose. But here's what I heard today, in two separate segments on this story:
~The views of Prof. Jeffrey Rosen, who is a very smart, and liberal, law school professor who is far from a representative of Walmart.
~The views of one of the parties to the lawsuit, Plaintiff Stepahnie Odle. She wants to win a significant amount of money from Walmart in her lawsuit.
~Also the attorney for Ms. Odle, who presumably would like to sing up many, many more potential plaintiffs, beyond Stephanie Odle.
~Prof. Barbara Perry, another smart academic who was asked mostly about how the personal characteristics of the three female Justices might impact the hearing of the case. Which is disconcerting if one thinks that the legal merits ought to be the primary consideration for the Court.

I also heard John Hockenberry completing The Takeaway's standard checklist for any Supreme Court story: a sarcastic reference to Justice Scalia for no apparent reason, and a drippingly sarcastic reading of a press release from Walmart.

What we didn't hear was any thoughtful legal commentary on behalf of the defense of Walmart. Not one single voice.

If it turns out to be true that the Supreme Court later rules, sometime in early June, that this particular class action should not be certified, listeners of The Takeaway might rightly wonder how the Court could have done such a thing. Because they had not been given the opposing viewpoint. And, at that point, the talk would turn to attacking the Supreme Court for an inexplicable decision.

This our nationpal public radio system, in action.

Mar. 29 2011 11:27 AM

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