Walmart faces what may turn out to be the biggest class-action suit in U.S. history-a class action that claims systematic discrimination against women in promotion and pay. Walmart has already asked the US Supreme Court to overturn a ruling from the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, that would allow 1.5 million current and former female Walmart employees to file the largest class-action lawsuit in history. The case started in San Francisco in 2001 when six women filed suit claiming Walmart discrimination, in part because they were passed over for promotion in favor of men — one says she was told, “It’s a man’s world.” The case, known as Dukes v. Walmart Stores, Inc., claims that Walmart actively discriminated against its female employees by denying them job assignments, promotions, training, and compensation equivalent to their male counterparts.
The suite claims women who were hired in 1996 earned, on average, $0.35 less per hour than men doing the same job. Of these women, those who were still working for Walmart in 2001 earned, on average, $1.16 less per hour than men doing the same job. In 2001, women in salaried management positions earned an average of $14,500 less than men per year. Additionally, testimony by plaintiffs document numerous accounts of sexist and discriminatory behavior coming from men in upper management positions such as being told that men “need to be paid more than women because they have families to support” and that “men are here to make a career and women aren’t. Retail is for housewives who just need to earn extra money.”
Recently Walmart’s lawyers have argued against the validity of the class-action suit based upon its size and its centralization of claims. They contend that discrimination is the result of specific acts committed by individuals, not company policy, and that decisions made by local manages did not have the same effect on all female workers, which would all become members of the potential class action. Yet, previously, the district court held that “although the size of this class action is large, mere size does not render a case unmanageable” and Judge Jenkins, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently wrote that plaintiffs ‘assertion that managers’ actions were in line with an extremely centralized and “strong corporate culture that includes gender stereotyping.” If the suit is allowed to go forward, with its class of 1.5 million U.S. women, it could cost the retail giant billions of dollars.