Monday, June 20, 2011

Supreme Court rules that Wal-Mart doesn't have "common policy" in discriminating against women

Big news today for anyone watching class action discrimination cases: the Supreme Court has issued a ruling in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, a case that argued Wal-Mart had a company-wide policy of discriminating against women. The Los Angeles Times has a good overview of the case and today's ruling here. Because the case argued that all female employees were affected, some estimates put the number of class members as high as 1.6 million.

Key to this case was the argument that statistics showed a company-wide pattern of male employees being promoted (and paid more) than their female colleagues. The Court found that this was not enough, because store managers played a role in hiring and firing decisions, meaning each employee's experience was not necessarily the same. Without a written policy confirming the discrimination, the Plaintiff class could not proceed with the lawsuit.

What does this mean for you? You probably don't have 1.6 million female employees, but the lawsuit serves as a useful reminder of how complicated and expensive discrimination cases can become. State and Federal law both prevent discrimination based on "protected classes" (race, gender, etc) but under California law, the list is longer and might not be as obvious as you thought. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has a primer on California discrimination laws that is worth ten minutes of your time and could save you trouble down the road: read their Equal Rights 101 section here.

If you are concerned about discrimination claims, the time to act is before employment termination or promotion. I am happy to talk to you about protecting your business from employment claims of any kind, and can recommend steps you can take to prevent discrimination claims going forward.

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