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How the Wal-Mart discrimination case changed the legal landscape

Missouri readers may be interested in how a Wal-Mart discrimination case has changed the outlook for women and minorities seeking employment equality. Some believe that the June 2011 decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes has undone decades of employment discrimination reform. The 5-4 ruling threw out a lawsuit brought by female employees claiming systematic discrimination that resulted in lower rates of pay and promotions.

Employers were thrilled, but others felt that the ruling meant setbacks for employment discrimination cases brought by women and minorities. Many such cases had been brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had opened the door for groups to file class-action lawsuits.

Two years after the ruling, it is evident how significantly the American legal landscape has changed. In that time, the Dukes decision has been cited more than 1,200 times in state and federal court rulings. It has been used to undo years of litigation by rejecting or decertifying class actions, to have settlements thrown out and to overturn jury verdicts.

There has also been a sharp decrease in the number of new class-action discrimination lawsuits being filed. Prior to the 2011 decision, there were typically 25 or 30 of these cases per year. Currently, new cases are closer to 10 or 12 in number. Advocates for minority workers and women say that the mood is mainly dispirited. They note that economic disparities are widening between men and women and between whites and minority groups. Additionally, complaints about poor treatment in the workplace are commonplace.

It may be more important now than ever for those who are facing workplace mistreatment and discrimination to stand up for themselves in court. A Missouri lawyer with a background in workplace discrimination cases could cite previous rulings made using Title VII in an effort to pursue employment equality.

Source: Pro Publica, "The Impact and Echoes of the Wal-Mart Discrimination Case", Nina Martin, September 27, 2013

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