Filed Under:  Business, Civil Rights, National, OpEd, Opinion

Some Justices just corporate shills in robes

29th June 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Tonyaa Weathersbee
The Louisiana Weekly Guest Columnist

So now, it seems the only thing that women and minorities who band together to sue corporations for bias can hope for is that the chief discriminator is arrogant enough or careless enough to call them the N-word or the B-word in a tweet or e-mail.

And even then, that still might not be enough proof for the corporate shills who are now masquerading as Supreme Court justices.

In the latest of a series of rulings that continue to elevate corporate privilege over workers’ rights, the high court sided with Wal-Mart in a class-action suit brought by 1.5 million female employees who claimed that the discount retail giant paid and promoted women far less than they did men.

Indeed, statistics supported the women. Seventy percent of Wal-Mart’s hourly jobs, for example, are held by females, while only 33 percent of the management jobs are. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who, along with Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer sided with the plaintiffs, cited instances in which senior managers called female associates “little Janie Qs.”

But apparently, hard numbers and condescending labels weren’t enough for Antonin Scalia, his chocolate doppelganger Clarence Thomas, and the rest of the court’s corporate enablers.

“Significant proof that Wal-Mart operates under a general policy of discrimination is entirely absent here,” said Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion.

So since Scalia and the court’s corporate wing believe that proof of discrimination must be enshrined in policy, I figure that they now need to see something in writing that says “It is such-and-such company’s official company policy to pay women and minorities less than white men and to reserve most management jobs for white men” in order to allow class-action suits to proceed.

And we all know that things don’t work that way in the real world.

Most corporations, especially companies that have been built and run by white men for generations – and that would be a whole lot of them – are not going to spell out anything that can be construed as discriminatory in their company handbook. In fact, many of those corporations often hire consultants and human resources people to help them avoid that very thing.

But sometimes, corporations can use non-discriminatory words – I’m especially thinking of the hollow label of “such-and-such company is an equal opportunity employer” – and still engages in discriminatory practices that they might not even be aware of.

A company can claim to be non-discriminatory, yet may continue to reject women and Blacks for promotions not based on their actual qualifications for the job, but on subjective, cultural kinds of biases like, “she didn’t smile enough” or “he isn’t a good fit.”

And the honchos don’t have to communicate that kind of bias in a companywide memo because most of the time, it’s already in their DNA.

Of course, supporters of this ridiculous ruling are claiming that it doesn’t shut the door on class-action suits. They claim that it only didn’t meet the test for a class suit, and that people are free to file individual lawsuits.

But the people who are saying this are being odiously disingenuous. They know that it’s more expensive for individuals to take on a big corporation with deep pockets — hence the reason for people to get a lawyer and band together to sue.

So the high court’s ruling virtually kills one of the last checks on corporate power outside of the unions. It means that corporations can do what they want to do to women and minorities, just as long as they don’t put it in writing.

But this doesn’t have to be the end of it. Workers who are standing up to discrimination ought to exercise their influence on the streets. They can organize and boycott places like Wal-Mart and other companies that don’t care about being fair to women or minorities.

Another thing: If putting a discriminatory policy in writing seems to be the only thing that will convince Scalia and his cronies that a company discriminates, then the victims of that discrimination also ought to try putting everything in writing. They should find a way to use social media and electronic media to post those unfair salaries, along with any condescending memos.

They can fight back. And hope that what they put in writing persuades people to stop making discriminatory companies rich — and, by extension, to stop enabling a high court that continues to abet them in messing people over.

Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist and a member of the Florida Times-Union’s Editorial Board. The above commentary first appeared on

This article originally published in the June 27, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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