'Too big to sue’ Wal-Mart ruling makes woman workers ‘just right to screw’ by Martha Burk

Martha Burk
Director, Corporate Accountability Project, National Council of Women's Organizations

When a gang of right wing Republicans mugs a group of women seeking a fair shake, it’s sad; when the entire Supreme Court eviscerates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the law that protects women from wage discrimination, it’s a tragedy.

That’s pretty much what the Supremes did today when they voted to a man (and woman) that Wal-Mart was too big to sue over a paltry matter like systematically paying women less than men and squelched the class action remedy that the victims filed. Then in a judicial one-two punch, the court voted 5-4 throw out statistical and other evidence of the pay discrimination.

The second decision was sad.

The first was a tragedy!

You see the whole idea of these group suits or class actions is to give the ‘little guy’ (and gal) a fighting chance against large corporations with their armies of $1,000-an-hour-lawyers, a chance to band together as a ‘class’ and seek redress as a group. That way, they can get their own $1,000-an-hour-lawyers to even the playing field.

By ruling that Wal-Mart is too-big-to-sue, the court told victims of pay discrimination – in this case women, but look out everyone else: you’ll probably be next! – they’d have to go it alone in hundreds or thousands of courtrooms without a large group with whom they could split the legal fees. Tough break, girls!

As gratifying as it is to rant at the unelected justices, when all nine Supremes agree on something, it’s more often than not a sign that Congress has dropped the ball either in writing legislation (like the badly worded law that denied Lily Ledbetter compensation for the discrimination she suffered) or in not creating new laws to address prevalent problems.

Indeed, shortly after the gavel fell on this decision, calls were renewed for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Paycheck Fairness Act, both of which would make it more difficult for employers –even those too big to sue – to practice pay discrimination with the impunity the Supreme Court granted them today.

Congress is, one could argue, a bit more responsive to public outrage that the courts. But I’m not sure that even in that allegedly representative body, women working to support their families can compete with too-big-to-sue corporate interests.

But hope springs eternal.