The U.S. Supreme Court’s tossing out of a massive class-action sex-discrimination suit against Wal-Mart was a “huge victory” with broad consequences, the retailer’s lead counsel Ted Boutrous told Larry Kudlow Monday.
The justices, in what is likely the most important class-action decision ever, unanimously ruled that more than one million female employees nationwide could not proceed together in the lawsuit that accused the retailer of paying women less and giving them fewer promotions. The plaintiffs were seeking billions of dollars.
Walmart had argued that female employees in different jobs at 3,400 stores and with different supervisors do not have enough in common to be joined together in a single class-action lawsuit.
“They were supposed to be showing commonality – that everyone was affected the same way,” Boutrous told Kudlow. “We had all kinds of examples of women who’ve thrived at Wal-Mart, who’ve succeeded, who’ve moved up the ladder, who’ve managed stores, so this never should have been certified in the first place.”
Boutrous believes this case was never about whether women should be paid the same as men, and he pointed to Wal-Mart’s strong diversity policy that seeks to foster the success of women.
“What happened here is the plaintiffs came up with a new-fangled theory that went to far, that broke all the rules,” he said.
And what about things like job performance and education? Kudlow argued they still matter it comes to compensation and promotions, and Boutrous believes that’s what’s at the center of the high court’s ruling.
“You can’t stereotype in any direction,” he said. “You can’t assume that everyone is performing at exactly the same level and you have to be fair to everyone concerned. And that’s what today’s decision stands for.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyer said they were considering pursing class-action suits with smaller groups of women or proceeding individually.