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Court Rules: Wal-Mart to Face Gender Bias Trial

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart, the world’s largest private employer, will go to trial. The class, which is represented by six women plaintiffs who have worked or currently work at Wal-Mart, would include all women who have worked for Wal-Mart since December 21, 1998, for a total class of over 1.5 million women. This would be the largest sex discrimination lawsuit in the history of the United States.

Wal-Mart challenged the 2004 decision by a federal judge to grant all present and former women employees class-action status. In yesterday’s two-to-one ruling, however, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the federal judge’s decision, writing, “Plaintiffs’ expert opinions, factual evidence, statistical evidence and anecdotal evidence present significant proof of a corporate policy of discrimination and support plaintiffs’ contention that female employees nationwide were subject to a common pattern and practice of discrimination,” the Associated Press reports.

The plaintiffs have accused Wal-Mart of discrimination of pay and promotions based on gender. The suit charges that, on average, Wal-Mart pays women less than men in the same or similar positions, that women are passed up for promotions in favor of men with less experience, and that there is a pervasive sexist atmosphere. Moreover, despite the fact that women make up two-thirds of Wal-Mart’s workforce, only one-third of managers are female, especially at higher-level positions.

Paul Blank, the campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com, said that yesterday’s decision “is a huge victory not only for the women who work at Wal-Mart, but for all Americans who care about equal rights and a discrimination-free workplace… As America’s largest employer, it is now time for Wal-Mart to take responsibility for its actions and do the right thing for its employees.”
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Sources:

International Herald Tribune 2/7/07; AP 2/6/07; WakeUpWalMart.com; Feminist Daily News Wire 6/23/04