Dec. 6, 2010— -- The Supreme Court today announced it would review whether to allow one of the largest class action suits in history to go forward against retailing behemoth Walmart.
Walmart had asked the high court to step in, arguing that a lower court was wrong to allow the sex discrimination case to go forward as a class certification instead of allowing employees to file on an individual basis. In briefs Walmart argued the class size would be "larger than the active duty personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard combined."
Walmart said the class action could include "every woman employed for any period of time over the past decade in any of Walmart's approximately 3,400 stores….the millions of class members collectively seek billions of dollars in monetary relief."
The action stems from a sexual discrimination suit filed by six women who worked in 13 stores who alleged they had been paid less than men in comparable positions, despite having higher performance ratings and greater seniority.
In court papers, lawyers for the women say that the case needs to proceed as a class action because Walmart exercised a strong centralized corporate culture, and that class litigation "may be the only means of obtaining the broad injunctive relief necessary to address the allegedly discriminatory policies challenged."
"The average Walmart worker," the briefs say, "simply does not have the capacity to pursue a discrimination lawsuit against her employer."
The women seek injunctive relief, back pay and punitive damages.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has kept a close watch on the case. In briefs supporting Walmart the chamber warns that if the court were to rule against Walmart there will be an "avalanche" of new class action litigation on a broad array of subject matters.
"If allowed to stand, the ruling has the potential to dramatically increase the class action exposure of the Chamber's members and all companies doing business in the United States."