By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a class-action lawsuit filed in California had failed to prove gender discrimination was a widespread policy of Wal-Mart. The markets rallied after the high court dismissed the suit, and some observers heralded the decision as a positive sign for business in the United States.
On Monday’s “The Kudlow Report” on CNBC, conservative pundit and “Demonic” author Ann Coulter took on former Democratic National Committee chairman and CNBC contributor Howard Dean on the merits of the decision. Coulter explained the circumstances where a class action lawsuit would have been appropriate, such as when a broad range of individuals in similar circumstances are affected in a way that each individual case would not make financial sense to try separately.
“[H]ere you have none of that,” Coulter said. “You have, as you bring up, absolutely individual circumstances with each employee — not only that, you have individual circumstances with each manager. All of these employees have different managers determining what they get paid, how long they work, what their work treatment is like. The reason they wanted a class action in California was because of the Ninth Circuit, which is very anti-employer. It’s an insane case for a class-action case. And not surprisingly, 9-0, the court reject this had case, although at the risk of having the market collapse again, it was 5-4 with the four liberals saying that they could have brought a class-action under a different theory.”
Dean was less impressed with the Court’s decision and declared it an “anti-worker court,” but noted that the decision didn’t absolve Wal-Mart of the discrimination charges.
“Look, first of all, it’s important to note that the court did not find there was no discrimination,” Dean said. “That I didn’t hear anybody trying to claim that they found there was no discrimination. There could be. We don’t know that. That’s an issue that has to be tried. I hope a public interest lawyer who doesn’t rely on the 30 percent or whatever it is commission will be able to still try the case and find out. Secondly, it is true. This is a tough decision for employees. This is a pro-business court which makes it an anti-worker court, I guess in this context. I personally don’t think that’s a good thing for the country. I think right now, the corporate balance sheets have recovered fully from the crash of September 2008. But the balance sheets of the American families haven’t recovered. I think we’re out of balance. You know, I’m not a lawyer. I can’t say whether the — if they had a unanimous decision saying this particular one wasn’t the right way to certify it, we have to respect the unanimous decisions of the Supreme Court.”
Dean told Kudlow he wasn’t biased against Wal-Mart, but wished the company had put more of an emphasis on jobs in the United States versus overseas.
“Larry, let’s be honest — first of all, I’m not in the ‘I hate Wal-Mart’ crowd,” Dean said. “I think they’ve changed a lot over the last five or six years and I think they’ve made a difference. And they’ve created millions of jobs. Unfortunately most of the millions of jobs they’ve created have been in China, not in the United States. So I think it’s time we gave American workers a break here. I don’t think this case was much of a break for most American workers.”
However, Coulter said it wasn’t a defeat for employees necessarily, but instead a defeat for trial lawyers.
“I would like to disagree with the idea that this is employer versus employee here,” Coulter said. “This was anti-trial lawyer. That’s the advantage of the class-action. They get all their attorneys’ fees for the entire country. They get much bigger damage as a slice of this. Employees would have been hurt by this because Wal-Mart would have had a lot less money, all going to trial lawyers to hire more employees. This is not employer versus employee.”