Women Win Class-Action Status in Suit Against Wal-Mart

A federal judge in San Francisco yesterday granted class-action status to a lawsuit against Wal-Mart filed by six current and former Wal-Mart employees who accuse the retail giant of systemic sex discrimination. The lawsuit now potentially covers some 1.6 million current and former female Wal-Mart employees, going as far back as late 1998. “This is the largest civil rights class action ever certified,” Brad Seligman, executive director of the Impact Fund, a non-profit serving as lead counsel for the plaintiffs in this case, told the NY Times. “We hope to fundamentally change Wal-Mart since Wal-Mart is the industry leader. We think changing Wal-Mart for the better is going to help everybody for the better.” 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 in which managers hold staff meetings at Hooters and take trips to strip clubs with clients, according to the Los Angeles Times. Despite the fact that women make up two-thirds of Wal-Mart’s workforce, only one-third of managers are female, and the higher up in the ranks one looks, the less women one will find, according to the Impact Fund. However, US District Court Judge Michael J. Jenkins only granted class-action status on the plaintiffs’ claims for equal pay, punitive damages, and corrective action on promotions, not their claims for lost pay based on discrimination in promotions (except for those female employees who demonstrated interest in promotions), the NY Times reports. Wal-Mart’s lawyers tried to argue against class action status by saying that a class composed of current and former women employees would be too large for one case to handle; the judge emphatically disagreed. “Insulating our nation’s largest companies from allegations that they have engaged in a pattern and practice of gender or racial discrimination – simply because they are large – would seriously undermine” civil rights laws, Judge Jenkins wrote in his decision, according to the New York Times. JOIN the Feminist Majority


New York Times 6/23/04; Christine Science Monitor 6/23/04; LA Times 6/23/04; Impact Fund 6/22/04

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