Why does it always seem that big Goliaths are generally brought down by the “little guy” or girl in this case. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is the largest private employer and grocery chain in the U.S. In 2001, 61 year-old Wal-Mart Greeter Betty Dukes filed a class action sexual discrimination lawsuit against the company with the help of “Berkeley, Calif.-based Impact Fund and other civil rights lawyers filed the class action based on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.” You have to be impressed with a Wal-Mart Greeter attracting that kind of law power. Ms. Dukes’ claimed, “she had been denied the training she needed to receive a promotion,” but her male counterparts were given every opportunity to succeed.”
The actual case on sex discrimination has yet to be heard. First, the court must decide if it can be deemed a class action. If so, the “class” is estimated to be as low as 500,000 and as high as 1.6 million women.
Dukes’ attorney Brad Seligman has presented proof to earlier courts that Wal-Mart “systematically discriminated against female employees, who were underrepresented in management positions and were paid less than male colleagues.”
According to the USA Today, the victim list is long. “The women from Wal-Mart have told their stories of discrimination many times in the past decade. They have described how male workers with less seniority were promoted and paid more. They have talked of a culture of female stereotyping, of being called “Janie Qs” and told to wear cosmetics and “doll up.” [What’s a Janie Q and do people still say “doll up?”]
Dukes’ lawyers have shown that women “comprise over 80% of hourly supervisors, [yet] hold only one-third of store management jobs,” and that “women’s pay lags that of men in every major job in each of the company’s 41 regions.”
Wal-Mart lawyers say this isn’t exactly true, but the lower courts have sided with Dukes’ attorneys, albeit the 9th Circuit upheld the decision by only a one vote margin.
For her part, Ms. Dukes still works at Wal-Mart. I’m not sure if she’s been given any training in the 10 years since she filed suit. I wonder if she’ll be at work today? Probably not. They’ll be too many reporters hounding her and the last thing any PR person would want is Betty Dukes responding to a reporter with her Wal-Mart vest on.
Stay tuned. Apparently, businesses are on the edge of their seat fearing women can sue going forward as a class, even if the company claims that discrimination was not a corporate mandate. I find it difficult to understand why women are not turning their backs on the retailer. I guess, like anything, it all comes down to money and it’s hard to ignore some of those deeply discounted items.
If affirmed as a class action by the U.S. Supreme Court, Wal-Mart Stores Inc v. Betty Dukes, No. 10-277 will be the largest class-action sex discrimination case in history. According to news reports, Joseph Sellers will be the attorney arguing for Dukes and Theodore Boutrous will argue for Wal-Mart. Not a female in sight.