Comcast Leverages Wal-Mart Ruling to Limit Class Action Lawsuits

Bloomberg reports today that cable television giant Comcast Corp. and biotechnology firm Amagen Inc. are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to further limit class action lawsuits citing last year's ruling in the Betty Dukes Wal-Mart Stores Inc. discrimination case.

In 2011, the court rejected class certification for a lawsuit brought on behalf of more than 1.5 million female workers alleging discrimination in pay and promotions at Wal- Mart, the world’s largest retailer. The justices, dividing 5-4, said the women failed to point to a common corporate policy that led to discrimination, preventing them from suing as a group.

Plaintiffs often seek to sue as a class to pool resources against wealthy corporate defendants, gaining leverage to force a settlement or win at trial. The ruling in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, cited in a series of lower-court decisions -- most favoring companies -- will influence the Supreme Court’s view of the antitrust class action facing Comcast and the securities fraud class action involving Amgen, said Gerald Maatman Jr., of Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago.

Last year's ruling was seen as "great for corporations" and "bad for individuals and consumers." 

In the ruling (PDF), the Supreme Court blocked the largest sex-discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history, siding with Wal-Mart and against up to 1.6 million female workers in a decision that makes it harder to mount large-scale bias claims against the nation's huge companies.

The justices all agreed that the lawsuit against the retailer could not proceed as a class action in its current form, reversing a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

By a 5-4 vote, the court also said there were too many women in too many jobs at Wal-Mart to wrap into one lawsuit.

Wal-Mart itself is citing the Dukes ruling in a new round of gender bias claims filed in several Southern states. 

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