By Pete Kasperowicz
Democrats in the House and Senate proposed legislation on Wednesday that would reverse a 2011 Supreme Court decision that was widely seen as making it harder for groups to pursue class-action cases against employers.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said their bill, the Equal Employment Opportunity Restoration Act, is particularly needed to help assure women of employment equality, because it would reverse the court's decision to block a class-action suit against Wal-Mart brought by female employees claiming gender discrimination.
In that case, Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the court decided that the case could not proceed as a class action because the women involved had not shown "convincing proof of a company-wide discriminatory pay and promotion policy." Opponents of the decision said it makes it much harder for class-action suits to proceed, and requires plaintiffs to prove their case before the trial starts.
"If workers can't seek justice without first proving an impossible standard, then justice is denied," Franken said. "This legislation would reverse the harmful effects of the Dukes decision and once again give American workers the right to band together and seek their day in court."
"Upending decades of judicial practice and precedent, the court erected new unwarranted and challenging barriers for groups of private employees to challenge employment discrimination," DeLauro said on the House floor Thursday morning.
"As a result, 1.5 million female Wal-Mart employees were denied remedy for discrimination that resulted in smaller paychecks, limited professional advancement and increased financial pressures for families trying to make ends meet," she said.
Supporters of the Supreme Court decision argue that it placed appropriate limits on class actions and forces the lower courts to take the process of certifying class actions more seriously. Most significantly, this includes deciding whether all plaintiffs actually suffer from the same problem in the workplace.
Supporters of the decision said that before the Dukes case, lower courts were too casually allowing class actions to proceed, based on generalizations but not always hard evidence that the plaintiffs all suffered injury due to the same policy. Many called the class-action suits that were surviving the judicial process "frivolous," and in the Dukes case, argued that plaintiffs were trying to justify their case by improperly using statistical sampling to show discrimination against female workers.
The Supreme Court opinion said the plaintiffs were looking to sue Wal-Mart over "literally millions of employment decisions at once."
The Senate bill, S. 3317, is co-sponsored by 23 Democrats, while the House bill, H.R. 5978, is co-sponsored by 38 Democrats.