Groups of women suing Walmart in Florida federal court over alleged workplace gender discrimination at the retailer’s stores must now proceed with their claims individually.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola Jr. granted Walmart’s motions to sever claims in two cases where dozens of current and former employees of the retailer said they experienced discrimination in pay and promotions. The cases weren’t proposed class actions, but the women had nonetheless joined together to target what they said were broader Walmart policies, and argued that it would help them draw and use common evidence from the company in court.
But Walmart had fought their effort to proceed in groups, arguing that the plaintiffs had little in common beyond claiming they experienced gender discrimination at work. The groups included women who had worked at different locations and under different supervisors, the retailer pointed out.
The court sided with Walmart, saying it would be difficult to lump the women’s claims together when they worked with managers who had discretion over issues like employees’ pay.
“The plaintiffs point out that their discrimination is a result of Walmart’s company-wide policies, not individual decision-making,” Scola wrote in Friday’s ruling. “However, the plaintiffs concede that the ‘managers throughout the regions were permitted to arbitrarily set workers’ compensation.’ For a group of claims to arise out of the same transaction or occurrence, the claims must ‘share operative facts.’”
Some 34 women were grouped together in one of the cases, and 45 women in another. Now those nearly 80 plaintiffs, who held a range of roles from cashier to store manager at various Walmart locations, will need to proceed on their own. The cases are already being refiled separately, said Lindsey Wagner, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
“There is still nothing about the merits with the ruling, and all these women are moving forward,” Wagner said Monday, meaning that the ruling did not address the validity of the plaintiffs’ discrimination claims beyond ordering them to proceed separately.
The Florida cases reflect the ongoing fallout since the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes case in 2011, where the U.S. Supreme Court disbanded a class of Walmart and Sam’s Club employees around the country who accused the retailer of discriminating against female employees at its retail stores.
Since then, the plaintiffs have pursued their claims in smaller groups.
“We are pleased the court ended yet another attempt by these lawyers to group dozens of plaintiffs into one suit against us,” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said Monday.
“The court has laid out a process where each plaintiff can file an individual complaint to hear allegations that are more than 15 years old,” he said. “We will thoughtfully address each case as we continue to defend the company.”