The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal in the biggest employment discrimination case on record, one claiming that Wal-Mart discriminated against hundreds of thousands of women in pay and promotion. The lawsuit seeks back pay that could amount to billions of dollars.
The question before the court is whether claims by individual employees may be combined as a class action. A decision on that issue will almost certainly affect all sorts of other class action suits. If nothing else, many pending class actions will slow or stop while litigants and courts await the decision in the case. Wal-Mart objects to the class action in part because the number of potential claimants would be so large. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that the size of the class is inevitable because Wal-Mart is such a huge company, and is anyway legally irrelevant.
A comment from Amy Simon, Principal
"The Wal-Mart case is an example of a compliance issue turned into a public relations gaff that strains resources, and has far reaching implications for the company in the marketplace, and the productivity of its employees. The Wal-Mart firm is not the only company facing this crisis.
While the news cycle is currently focused on the single issue of the legality of a class action suit in cases like these, the case keeps Wal-Mart, and other firms that are facing class action suits, with their names in the news for negative reasons. The true issue in this case is job discrimination against women with a 500,000 female workers signed on. Those are not only a lot of claimants but a lot of customers to be in conflict with.
As reported by the Associated Press, Wal-Mart argued they don’t have a companywide policy of discrimination. One would ask, does Wal-Mart have a clear companywide policy against discrimination? The response by Wal-Mart that each store operates independently, and actions therein should be tried independently, is a defense that seems out of concert with the company‚Äôs brand marketing, as well as the marketing of its employment opportunities.
Instituting a clear and ethical diversity and compliance program that exceeds that which is required by Federal law, maintaining that program with training, and an integrated internal review committee, and promoting the effort with a responsible public relations and marketing program, will ensure that a firm stays in the office, meeting the responsibilities of its stock holders, and out of the courtroom.
A firm should be proactive in the areas of diversity and compliance. These types of cases whether individual or class action are not new, and can be avoided with proper planning and training. By doing so a firm is not only doing the right thing for its employees, but also protecting its brand and stockholders from the results of negative publicity.
Accord Strategies provides consulting, planning and training in compliance and diversity, and A Simon Says, the public relations and marketing protocols that support that effort."