Monday, January 09, 2006

Wal-Mart Justice?

For those of you who read the Wall Street Journal or Powerline blog, you may have seen the excellent article on the Wal-Mart lawsuit by Eric Dreiband:

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 permits each victim of unlawful discrimination to recover damages of up to $300,000. The plaintiffs seek punitive damages of between $450 and $510 billion (1.5 to 1.7 million women times $300,000). In order to shoehorn the case into a class action, their lawyers argue that money is "incidental" and "secondary." In other words, the Dukes plaintiffs seek, literally, a half a trillion dollars in punitive damages alone while their lawyers contend that money is something of an afterthought.

The Civil Rights Act also authorizes compensatory damages for victims of unlawful discrimination. The plaintiffs in Dukes decided not to seek compensatory damages: To do so would render the case inappropriate as a class action because compensatory damage awards depend upon injuries suffered by individuals, not classes of individuals. Any actual victim of sex discrimination by Wal-Mart will lose her claim to compensatory damages unless she hires a lawyer to file papers in the San Francisco court and "opts out" of the case.

But how many Wal-Mart store employees in, say, Tupelo, Miss., Roanoke, Va. or Harrisburg, Pa. are going to find and retain a lawyer to represent their interests in a case pending in a court thousands of miles from where they live and work? The answer is: very few. Thus, the six plaintiffs who brought the case will have denied millions of women one of the key remedies to which they might be entitled under the law.

Interesting. So the class members in the class-action suit will only be allowed this one and only settlement regardless of the discrimination they faced. They only way for them to reach a settlement other than the class-action suit is to fly to San Fransisco and "opt out" in person. Unlikely.

Despite the fact that Wal-Mart's headquarters are in Arkansas and the class members are scattered across cities and towns throughout the nation, the civil rights of millions of women are at stake in a courtroom that is located on the western edge of the continent.

Because the district is friendly to such cases, of course.

And then, of course, there is the issue of attorneys' fees. The lawyers who brought the case stand to make hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps more, while each class member will receive a small amount. Consider, for example, a settlement of $2 billion. This is a staggering sum, but, given that Wal-Mart's exposure exceeds $500 billion, a $2 billion settlement would be less than one-half of 1% of the amount sought. Each class member would, on average, receive less than $1,200.

The women will receive beans in comparison to their lawyers. And once the case is over and each woman receives a couple thousand dollars they will be ineligible to receive any more compensation - while their lawyers get rich.

Again, I make no apologies for Wal-Mart, but this class action lawsuit does not equal justice - for anyone.

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