Today the US Supreme Court will hear Wal-Mart v. Dukes to determine whether over 1.6 million women who work or have worked for Wal-Mart can sue the retailer together as a single class. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled three times to allow the lawsuit to receive class-action status, but Wal-Mart claims that the female employees should not be considered a class because the company does not have a company-wide discrimination policy and each outlet store acts as an independent business.
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, stated, “Big financial interest have been bailed out with the concept of too big to fail. Now are we going to protect large companies that break the sex discrimination laws with the false premise too big to sue effectively? Without the ability to take major class action there would be no way for women to challenge large companies who cheat them systematically.”
If the Supreme Court upholds the case’s class-action status, the case would be the largest employment class-action suit in history. Plaintiffs in the case allege that Wal-Mart systematically discriminated through lower wages and fewer promotions for women employees; however, the Supreme Court will not, at this time, rule on whether Wal-Mart discriminated against its employees.
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), clarified, “For years, the Wal-Mart empire has been built upon miserly wages that were even more pitiful for women. The Wal-Mart executives who have profited from these practices should have the guts to face in court the women they cheated. They know that if they succeed in breaking up this class, most of the women will be unable to proceed on their own or in smaller groups.”
In early March, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), as well as 32 other organizations including the Feminist Majority Foundation, filed an amicus brief in the US Supreme Court in support of a class action suit against Wal-Mart for discriminating against its women employees in stores nationwide. The initial lawsuit was filed in 2001 by Betty Dukes, a former Wal-Mart employee, and six other plaintiffs who worked in 13 of the chain’s 3,400 US stores. The women are seeking what could be billions of dollars in punitive damages and back pay for gendered wage discrepancies for all female employees of Wal-Mart since 1998.