WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken introduced a bill Wednesday meant to undo a Supreme Court ruling he says limits the right of workers to pursue class action lawsuits.
The bill would create a new class of lawsuit called “group action,” in response to a 2011 Supreme Court decision that held a group of women could not pursue a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart for gender discrimination simply based on their gender alone. The court ruled 5-4 that people filing a class-action lawsuit needed to show a grievance common to all plaintiffs, like a company-wide policy that discriminated against women, before the case can advance. Franken’s bill would undo that standard and allow such “class suits” to be permissible.
(A more thorough breakdown from Franken’s office is available here).
“People banded together to enforce civil rights are far more powerful than someone trying to do it alone,” Franken said.
Lawmakers and a host of civil rights law groups introduced the bill on Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the court decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes. The case’s main player, Betty Dukes, was among them.
“Our civil rights are only as valuable as the means exist to protect them,” she said. “By making it much harder to bring civil right class action, the Supreme Court weakened our rights to protect against sex discrimination.”
Both Franken and the lead House sponsor, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), were realistic about the bill’s very slim chances of going anywhere this session: Franken said he hopes to hold hearings on the issue, but acknowledged other bills were more likely to see floor action.
DeLauro said her main goal was to build up the number of co-sponsors for the legislation in the House, but said, “I don’t feel very much is going to happen in the House of Representatives between now and November. I think that we’ve laid the groundwork here, but we will continue the fight.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry