(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- The Supreme Court will hear arguments March 29 in a case that pits Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, against millions of former and current female employees who allege gender discrimination.
At issue before the court is whether the women can band together as a "class" and bring their case, or whether they must file on an individual basis.
If the court grants the women class certification, it most likely will become the largest employment class action suit in history, potentially involving every female worker employed at the company since 1998.
"The class is larger than the active-duty personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard combined -- making it the largest employment class action in history by several orders of magnitude," said Walmart attorney Theodore J. Boutrous.
The case is being carefully watched by the business community, which fears that it could lead to an increase of similar suits and force big business into premature settlements out of fear of exposure to gigantic monetary awards in the billions of dollars.
The Chamber of Commerce issued a brief on the side of Walmart arguing that the lower court ruling that allowed the case to go forward as a class action, "will likely encourage an avalanche of new class action litigation on a broad array of subject matters, beyond employment issues."
The case stems from a sexual discrimination suit filed in 2001 by six female employees who alleged they were paid less than men in comparable positions in violation of Title VII, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination.
As word spread, dozens more women joined the suit, and a district court ruled the court could go forward on behalf of all similarly situated women.
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