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The massive Wal-Mart sex discrimination suit could have a hand in the future of all class action lawsuits when the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case this term.
The Court will consider whether some 1.5 million female Wal-Mart workers can go forward with the largest discrimination class-action suit in U.S. history. Wal-Mart was first sued nine years ago for allegedly paying women less than men and promotion women less frequently.
The Justices agreed to reconsider the decision of a federal appeals court which allowed women who worked at over 4,400 different stores to band together in their lawsuit. Wal-Mart argued that their working experiences were too varied for a class action case to make sense. Wal-Mart, along with a number of other companies, contends that it is time for the Supreme Court to step in and restrict class action cases. Many companies believe that the class action system is unfair, and that corporations should be able to defend lawsuits on a case-by-case basis.
The decision of the federal court "would dramatically broaden the circumstances where classes can be certified in all types of cases against all types of companies,'' said Wal-Mart attorney, Theodore Boutrous.
It is illegal to treat employees differently based on their sex. Specifically, it is illegal to provide different working conditions, salaries, hiring, promotion or bonus criteria to women and men on the basis of gender.
Despite the recession, Wal-Mart is in excellent financial shape. The company had $15 billion in profit and $400 billion in sales this year. The case, which will be heard in the spring, will probably be "the most important business case this term,'' said Carter Phillips, a Washington lawyer, Bloomberg reports.
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