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Supreme Court sends back lawsuit on washing machines

A worker walks out of the Whirlpool plant at the end of his shift in Evansville, Indiana November 23, 2009. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
A worker walks out of the Whirlpool plant at the end of his shift in Evansville, Indiana November 23, 2009. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday wiped out an appeals court ruling in favor of consumers who bought front-loading washing machines made by Whirlpool Corp .

The court said the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision endorsing a group lawsuit, known as class action certification, had to be reconsidered in light of the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling last week in another consumer case involving Comcast Corp .

The class action lawsuit against Whirlpool said that the high-efficiency washers were defective because they emitted unpleasant odors.

In the Comcast case, the court ruled in favor of the cable company over how much it charged a group of cable TV subscribers. The court said 2 million subscribers in the Philadelphia area could not sue Comcast as a group.

Whirlpool's lawyers, in a petition seeking high court review, said that the case would also affect similar claims against the company and other manufacturers, including General Electric Co and Sears .

Jonathan Selbin, a lawyer representing consumers in the litigation, said he viewed the Supreme Court's decision as a victory because the justices declined to hear oral arguments and rule on Whirlpool's petition.

He said he is "cautiously optimistic" that the appeals court will find that the Comcast ruling will not have an impact on how the case comes out the second time around.

Whirlpool did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

The justices also ordered on Monday that another case pending before the court, involving employee wage claims against Charter One Bank, should be reconsidered in light of the Comcast ruling.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the claims could go ahead.

The bank said there was insufficient evidence to show that there was a unofficial policy to deny workers overtime. The official policy is to pay overtime to anyone who worked more than 40 hours in a week.

The Whirlpool case is Whirlpool Group v. Glazer, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-322. The Charter One case is RBS Citizens v. Ross, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-165.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool)

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