Walmart victory and religious values

LARRY DOWNING REUTERS Plaintiff Betty Dukes talks to the media on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court after the … Continued

LARRY DOWNING

REUTERS

Plaintiff Betty Dukes talks to the media on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court after the class action lawsuit Dukes v. Wal-Mart was argued before the court in Washington, in this March 29, 2011 file photo. The Supreme Court ruled for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on June 20, 2011 in the largest sex-discrimination lawsuit in history, saying class-action status for female employees seeking billions of dollars had been improperly granted. The justices overturned a U.S. appeals court ruling that more than a million female employees nationwide could join in the lawsuit accusing Wal-Mart of paying women less and giving them fewer promotions.

Justice, including economic justice, remains a bedrock commitment not only of Judaism, but of pretty much every religious tradition I know. In fact, among the Hebrew Bible’s most famous words may be those of Deuteronomy 16:20 – “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” Those words are so powerful because giving people a fair shake and equal opportunity under the law are not simply nice ideas; they are among the foundational values of any successful society.

Given all that, the level of emotion surrounding the Supreme Court ruling against plaintiffs who wanted to certify a class including as many as 1.5 million women to sue Walmart for discrimination, is not surprising. It’s also a case of misguided anger.

In fact, the court’s ruling is anything but the “miscarriage of justice” alleged by New York Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez. It’s certainly frustrating that among the plaintiffs are almost certainly women who were unfairly denied career advancement simply because they are women. That is wrong and those who denied them should be held accountable. But what happened in this case was about much more than that.

Contrary to Ms. Velasquez, the court’s decision upheld justice and reminded us that redressing injustice through unjust means creates as many problems as it solves. Perhaps that is why the word “justice” is repeated twice in the verse i.e. we can only pursue justice through just means.

By attempting to certify a class as large as they did, and by seeking to bring suit under a portion of the law which is not directed at recovering financial loss, those bringing the suit undermined themselves and deserved to be turned away. Had they not sought financial redress, perhaps they would have succeeded in certifying the entire class. Or, they could have brought suit on behalf of a smaller group who certainly seem entitled to some form of financial redress for what sure looks like unfair treatment.

Ultimately, the plaintiffs and their lawyers handed themselves a defeat which could have and should have been avoided, reminding me of the classic Talmudic teaching that when you grab for too much, you end up holding nothing in the end.

As attempted by the plaintiffs, this would have been a suit seeking billions, yes with a b, billions of dollars. It’s hard to imagine that wasn’t driving the decision to create this huge class, a group which included employees from states in which not a single discrimination complaint was ever filed against Walmart. And even with a much smaller class, there would still have been enough money at stake to incentivize lawyers to act on their clients’ behalf – a concern raised by some who see this as a loss for women’s rights.

So while the court’s decision may be deeply frustrating for many of us, their decision represents a victory for those seeking to address the real discrimination that does still exist in the American workplace. Discrimination still holds specific women back in their careers and rationalizes paying specific employees unequally when compared with their male counterparts. By insisting that only those who have suffered such discrimination be the clear focus of any suit brought against employers, the court echoes the importance of seeking justice, justly.

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • aatayyab

    sometimes when we try to seek justice through “unfair” means i.e. seeking money, we get nothing but justice.

  • Cranios

    “Justice” has been so redefined by the Left that it really can’t be used in the Biblical sense, anymore, without serious translation issues. Justice has gone from meaning that you get to keep the fruits of your own labors, to now when it means that you are entitled to the fruits of someone else’s labors just because you may happen to be less well-off than they are.

  • Ash3

    In a capitalist society, money takes precedence over religious values. The original Articles of the Constitution provided Commerce Clause, to protect business entities conducting for their best interests. Now they are termed as people interpreted by the present Supreme Court. So, they are also protected by the 1st Amendment. Freedom of Religion was granted in the Amendment demanded by the states. So, business entities are protected first, before religious values are recognized.

  • ThomasBaum

    Ash3 wrote:

    “In a capitalist society, money takes precedence over religious values.”

    In a capitalist society run amok, money takes precedence over all other values in that it is the only value there is.

  • YEAL9

    Is it fair that Rabbi Hirschfield makes $354,000/yr where as female rabbies make 20% of that even though they have equal talents and education?

  • YEAL9

    Is it fair that Rabbi Hirschfield makes $354,000/yr where as female rabbis make 20% of that even though they have equal talents and education?

  • persiflage

    This sounds suspiciously like some hair-brained delusion from the far right of the political spectrum. Folks that seem to get their ideas from living on another planet altogether.

    With over 10 million millionaires in the USA, making millionaires is a growth business hereabouts. People don’t get rich on their own – they usually get rich off of the labor of others while sitting on top of the pile. Maybe they had a good idea (like Bill Gates) or maybe someone else had a good idea and the employees cashed in (like Microsoft stockholders/employees). Maybe they were Wall Street crooks or Washington lobbyists. That’s just how it works in this world, and there’s nothing fair about it.

    Benefits for the working class are one of the ways to tip the scales and keep the balance in a capitalist world with a social conscience.

    Nevertheless, the rich continue to control more and more of the money-making machinery in America by virtue of their stranglehold over Washington politics – the GOP is by far the worst in this regard…….they no longer hide the fact that rich corporate interests are who they work for.

    Fools who hate democrats continue to vote for them.

  • persiflage

    This sounds suspiciously like some hair-brained delusion from the far right of the political spectrum. Folks that seem to get their ideas from living on another planet altogether.

    With over 10 million millionaires in the USA, making millionaires is a growth business hereabouts. People don’t get rich on their own – they usually get rich off of the labor of others while sitting on top of the pile. Maybe they had a good idea (like Bill Gates) or maybe someone else had a good idea and the employees cashed in (like Microsoft stockholders/employees). Maybe they were Wall Street crooks or Washington lobbyists. That’s just how it works in this world, and there’s nothing fair about it.

    Benefits for the working class are one of the ways to tip the scales and keep the balance in a capitalist world with a social conscience.

    Nevertheless, the rich continue to control more and more of the money-making machinery in America by virtue of their stranglehold over Washington politics – the GOP is by far the worst in this regard…….they no longer hide the fact that rich corporate interests are who they work for.

    Fools who hate democrats continue to vote for them.

Read More Articles

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

shutterstock_186566975
Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

shutterstock_186090179
How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

pews
Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

2337221655_c1671d2e5e_b
Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

bible
Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

csl_wall_paper
What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.