TOO BIG TO BE SUED? It has been almost a decade since Betty Dukes, a cashier in a Pittsburg, California, Wal-Mart, brought a landmark sex-discrimination lawsuit against her employer. Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the largest civil rights class action in history, alleges that the retail giant discriminated against its female employees in pay, promotions and training. On December 6 the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Wal-Mart’s challenge to the case.
The women of Wal-Mart have never had the opportunity to argue the merits of Dukes in court: they’re still litigating whether the case can proceed as a class action rather than as individual suits by thousands of women. Wal-Mart has relentlessly challenged certification of Dukes, arguing that the class—which has ranged in number from half a million to 1.6 million and will probably keep changing as lawyers squabble over the time frame—is unmanageably large.
Wal-Mart’s “too big to be sued” argument has been rejected four times by judges in the US District and the Ninth Court of Appeals. In a 2004 ruling, federal judge Martin Jenkins pointed out that Title VII, the federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination, “contains no special exception for large employers.”
Still, the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case isn’t good news for Betty Dukes and her co-workers. Conservatives on the Court are likely to use the case to crack down on large-scale class-action suits. It’s an agenda the business community heartily supports. Wal-Mart has tried hard to portray itself as a friend of the struggling consumer, especially throughout this recession. But a look at the amicus briefs in this appeal shows who the retailer’s real buddies are: the Chamber of Commerce, Bank of America, Microsoft and Altria—all big businesses that would rather not be held accountable for breaking the law. LIZA FEATHERSTONE
NO FAKE NET NEUTRALITY: Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination and presidency as a stalwart defender of net neutrality, the core value of a free and open Internet that says all Americans deserve equal access to all websites. But the man President Obama appointed to chair the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, is proposing dumbed-down net neutrality rules that bear scant resemblance to the bold promises of Candidate Obama.
Genachowski’s plan—which he unveiled December 1 and wants the FCC to vote on December 21—neither restores net neutrality as it existed before a Republican-dominated FCC took steps to undermine the principle nor guarantees Internet freedom and flexibility.
An analysis circulated by the Save the Internet Coalition reveals that “the proposed rule is riddled with loopholes and falls far short of what’s necessary to prevent phone and cable companies from turning the Internet into…cable TV: where they decide what moves fast, what moves slow, and whether they can price gouge you or not. The proposal is a shiny jewel for companies like AT&T and Comcast.”