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International briefs

Published:Tuesday | April 27, 2010 | 12:00 AM

  • Wal-Mart to face big class-action suit


A sharply divided federal appeals court yesterday exposed Wal-Mart Stores Inc to billions of dollars in damages when it ruled a massive class-action lawsuit alleging gender discrimination over pay for female workers could go to trial.

In its 6-5 ruling, the 9th Circuit United States Court of Appeals said the world's largest private employer would have to face charges that it pays women less than men for the same jobs and that female employees receive fewer promotions and have to wait longer for those promotions than male counterparts.

The retailer, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, has fiercely fought the lawsuit since it was first filed by six women in federal court in San Francisco in 2001, losing two previous rulings in the trial court and again in the appeals court in 2007.

Wal-Mart successfully convinced the appeals court to revisit its 2007 ruling made by a three-judge panel with a larger 11-judge panel, arguing that women who allege discrimination should file individual lawsuits.

Wal-Mart employs 2.1 million workers in 8,000 stores worldwide and argued that the conventional rules of class-action suits should not apply because each outlet operates as an independent business. Since it doesn't have a companywide policy of discrimination, Wal-Mart argued that women alleging gender bias should file individual lawsuits against individual stores.

Finally, the retailer argued that the lawsuit was simply too big to defend.

"Although the size of this class action is large, mere size does not render a case unmanageable," Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote for the majority court, which didn't address the merits of the lawsuit, leaving that for the trial court.

Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote a blistering dissent, joined by four of her colleagues.

"No court has ever certified a class like this one, until now. And with good reason," Ikuta wrote. "In this case, six women who have worked in 13 of Wal-Mart's 3,400 stores seek to represent every woman who has worked in those stores over the course of the last decade, a class estimated in 2001 to include more than 1.5 million women."

Analysts said the ruling was a setback to Wal-Mart's campaign to improve its image with shoppers.

  • Brace for oil impact in three days


Officials say there will be no shoreline impact from an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico for at least three days.

Crews were ramping up yesterday to protect the coastline after an oil rig exploded off the Louisiana coast nearly a week ago. A remote sub is trying to shut off an underwater oil well that's gushing 42,000 gallons (158,98 litres) a day from the site of the wrecked drilling platform.

Crews are also preparing to drill another well to redirect the oil, which could take weeks.

The oil is escaping from two leaks in a drilling pipe about 5,000 feet (1,520 meters) below the surface. The leaks threaten hundreds of miles (kilometres) of coastline in four states.

Whales have been spotted near the spill but officials say they didn't appear to be in distress.

  • Friendly fire killed UN staff?


A United Nations (UN) investigation has found that four of the organisation's staff members killed during a suicide attack on a Kabul guest house last October might have died because of friendly fire from Afghan security forces, UN officials said on Monday.

A final report by a four-member outside panel suggested that four of the five UN staffers killed in the attack had been shot to death because they were mistaken for Taliban insurgents during the October 28, 2009 incident.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office said yesterday it had received the report, which it declined to make public. Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said yesterday the report described a "confused situation at the Bakhtar guest house with the attackers and responding security personnel both dressed in Afghan police uniforms and a fire raging through the compound."

Nesirky said one of the dead UN staffers, Louis Maxwell of Miami, "may have been killed by Afghan security forces who may have mistaken him for an insurgent. The report was not able to determine who fired the shots that killed the three other UN staff members, though it leaves open the possibility that they may also have been killed by friendly fire".

After the attack, the UN sent about 600 of its 1,100 foreign staffers out of the country or into more secure quarters.

UN peacekeeping field support chief Susana Malcorra said the attack targeted the UN for its role in the November 7 presidential run-off election. The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, viewed the balloting as a Western plot.

"We believe there is a political connotation to the attack," Malcorra said yesterday. "The sense is that it was friendly fire."

She said a fifth UN official burned to death when three suicide attackers stormed a Kabul guest house and set fire to the building. Three Afghan security officers and the three assailants also died.

Malcorra said the attackers were wearing the same Afghan police uniforms as the security staff at the guest house where 34 UN staff lived. She also said "there is a strong sense" that Maxwell, who was on the roof, was mistaken for an insurgent and killed by Afghan security forces.

Nesirky said Ban was calling on the Afghan government to conduct a thorough investigation into the killings and sending UN security chief Gregory Starr with a team to Kabul next week to talk with Afghan authorities about beefing up safeguards for UN personnel.

  • Sudan president wins another term

Sudan (AP)

Sudan's president won another term in office yesterday with a comfortable majority in elections marred by boycotts and fraud allegations, becoming the first head-of-state to be re-elected while facing an international arrest warrant for war crimes.

Omar al-Bashir's victory was widely expected after his most credible challengers pulled out of the race to protest alleged fraud.

It was unlikely to put to rest questions about his standing around the globe and among his opponents or ease Sudan's isolation. Al-Bashir cannot travel freely because he risks being arrested to face charges before the Hague-based International Criminal Court for war crimes committed in Sudan's western Darfur region.

Sudan's first multiparty presidential, parliamentary and local elections in 24 years were a key requirement of a 2005 peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war between the predominantly Arab and Muslim north and rebels in the Christian-animist south.

The fighting left two million people dead and many more displaced. The Darfur conflict, which began in 2003, is not related to that war.

The elections also opened the way for a 2011 referendum in which the south will decide whether it wants to secede.

International observers said this month's elections failed to meet international standards because of delays, intimidation and faulty lists, but they did not call for a repeat vote. Instead, the observers recommended that lessons drawn from the process be applied to next year's referendum on southern independence.