CNN.com Offers Readers Inaccurate, Biased Take on Supreme Court Wal-Mart Ruling

Weighed in the balance and found lacking. That biblical admonition could well describe CNN.com's shoddy "breaking news" take on today's Supreme Court ruling in Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes.

Simply put, CNN.com gave readers a woefully inaccurate and incomplete story on the case, chalking up the Court's ruling as holding that a "sweeping class-action status that could potentially involve hundreds of thousands of current and former female workers was simply too large."

But the language of the Court ruling had nothing to do with Wal-Mart being "simply too large" to sue in a class-action. Rather, the issue is that the plaintiffs failed to establish sufficient commonality in their circumstances to justify a class-action suit under the applicable federal law.

From the text of the ruling by Justice Scalia:

The crux of this case is commonality—the rule requiring a plaintiff to show that “there are questions of law or fact common to the class.”

 

[...]

 

In this case, proof of commonality necessarily overlaps with respondents’ merits contention that Wal-Mart engages in a pattern or practice of discrimination. That is so because, in resolving an individual’s Title VII claim, the crux of the inquiry is “the reason for a particular employment decision,” Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, 467 U. S. 867, 876 (1984). Here respondents wish to sue about literally millions of employment decisions at once. Without some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims for relief will produce a common answer to the crucial question why was I disfavored.

Of course, with breaking news, time is of the essence, so if CNN writers hadn't the time to wade through the Court's ruling, they could have skimmed the 4-page syllabus* (emphasis mine):

[C]laims must depend upon a common contention of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution—which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each one of the claims in one stroke. Here, proof of commonality necessarily overlaps with respondents’ merits contention that Wal-Mart engages in a pattern or practice of discrimination.... Without some glue holding together the alleged reasons for those decisions, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims will produce a common answer to the crucial discrimination question.

Yes, the Supreme Court cautions that "The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader." That being said, it is a fair condensation of the Court's ruling and easily digestable by general assignment reporters.

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Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters