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"The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is simply the best civil rights law firm in American history." -- President Obama

Supreme Court Blocks Largest Discrimination Case in Nation's History

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Monday, June 20, 2011

(New York, NY) – Too many workers are denied a fair opportunity for promotion and equal pay because of unlawful discrimination.  Nothing in today’s Supreme Court decision contests this fact.  Nevertheless, today’s decision in Dukes v. Wal-Mart is a significant step backward from the goal of equal employment opportunity for all Americans.  Revealing once again how closely divided the Court is on important civil rights issues, a narrow majority departed from well-established precedent, unjustly changing the rules of the game for class action plaintiffs seeking only to have their fair day in a court. 

While portions of the Court’s opinion were unanimous, the Justices were profoundly split on the core issue of civil rights plaintiffs’ ability to vindicate their rights as a class.  Today’s 5-4 majority has seemingly foreclosed relief for a broadly-defined class of one and a half million women who, despite having worked longer and performed better than their male counterparts, are systematically underpaid and under-promoted. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is deeply disappointed that five Justices have made it substantially more difficult for classes of discrimination victims to vindicate their rights. 

“As Justice Ginsburg and the other dissenting Justices point out, the Supreme Court has broken sharply and unnecessarily with its own precedents, and made it even more difficult for workers who’ve been discriminated against to obtain relief for violations of the rights afforded them by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel.

As the four dissenting Justices explained, the evidence in this case “suggests that gender bias suffused Wal-Mart’s company culture.”  That conclusion underscores the critical importance of class actions in the enforcement of federal civil rights laws.  Class treatment of claims alleging company-wide discrimination is often the best, and sometimes the only, way to resolve claims of workplace civil rights violations.  This is especially true when the employment practices of complex and well-resourced multi-national corporations are at issue.  Given the persistence of racial and gender discrimination in workplaces across the nation, the majority’s ruling could have disturbing consequences for women and all people of color.

While we are disappointed that the Court’s ruling makes it more difficult for workers to collectively enforce their right to a discrimination-free workplace, today’s decision does not cast doubt on the fact that discrimination still exists and that the nation’s civil rights laws remain as the most important protections of equal opportunity.  LDF and the civil rights community as a whole will continue to fight discriminating employers and seek to make workplaces fair for all workers.

“We know from experience that antidiscrimination policies are not self-executing. Nothing in today’s decision prevents employers from redoubling their meaningful efforts to treat all of their employees fairly and from using unbiased hiring and promotion procedures that ensure equal opportunity for everyone,” Mr. Payton stated.  “This continues to be both what fairness, and common sense require.”