Is Wal-mart too big to be sued? That’s essentially the argument that Wal-mart is making to the Supreme Court. On Monday, the Supremes agreed to hear Wal-Mart’s request to stop the class action suit regarding discrimination against women from going forward. Their argument? The class is too big and too diverse. The essence of Wal-Mart’s argument is this — there are too many plaintiffs in the case from too many stores under too many managers in too many departments. In other words, Wal-Mart is trying to make the argument that because they screwed so many women in so many departments in so many ways, they should be immune from a class action suit because, well, they screwed that many people.
What they’re really saying — and several other big corporations are backing them up on this — is if this suit goes forward and we lose, it’s going to cost us a whole lot of money. They would much rather see discrimination cases brought in single file, because it’s much easier to pick off plaintiffs one by one. After all, it’s a whole lot easier to believe charges of widespread discrimination when there are 1.5 million women standing there saying, “Me, too!”
A Supreme Court decision in favor of Wal-Mart could take away one of the best tools that American consumers have in fighting corporate injustices, including discrimination, defective products and widespread overpricing and fraud. Advocates point out that the threat of a class action suit is a potent tool to get companies to settle. It’s the large numbers, with the accompanying risk of enormous costs, that push corporations to negotiate and make concessions.
Placing further restrictions on the definition of allowable members of a class may have a chilling effect on litigation — which would suit big business interests just fine. It would mean that the more widespread their perfidy, the harder it would be to sue them.