By Amanda Reed, Communications Intern
For many of us, Walmart is nothing extraordinary. We’ve seen its familiar blue-and-white signs and heard its slogan more times than we can count. We have gone to Walmart when we discovered the Christmas lights were broken or when our socks have vanished in the wash. Some of us have visited our local store for no other reason than boredom — we needed to get out of the house and walk around. As we stood in line for our items, we may not have wondered what the day was like for the person behind the counter. Had they been employed there long? Were they paid fairly for their work? Did they believe their workplace was free of discrimination?
Walmart employs 815,000 women — 57 percent of its U.S. workforce — and has a history of unfair treatment of these female employees: they are often underpaid, underrepresented and given few opportunities for advancement. Although women make up the majority of Walmart workers, most of them occupy low-wage positions and few are in management roles. In 2010, most Walmart managers were men.
Many female Walmart employees have been paid less than male coworkers. In 2001, female workers earned $5,200 less per year on average than male workers. The company paid those who had hourly jobs, where the average yearly earnings were $18,000, $1.16 less per hour ($1,100 less per year) than men in the same position. Female employees who held salaried positions with average yearly earnings of $50,000 were paid $14,500 less per year than men in the same position. Despite this gap in wages, female Walmart employees on average have longer tenure and higher performance ratings.
In Dukes v. Walmart — the largest class action gender discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history — 1.5 million female employees accused Walmart of discrimination in promotions, pay and job assignments. The case included 120 affidavits relating to 235 stores. When the Supreme Court heard the case in 2011, it ruled that “[e]ven if every single one of these accounts is true, that would not demonstrate that the entire company operate[s] under a general policy of discrimination.” Today, many of the plaintiffs are in the process of filing smaller suits against the corporation.
We may not always pay attention to Walmart, but its continuous trend of gender discrimination cannot be ignored. This retail giant should be setting higher standards for other employers, not abusing its power and exploiting its workers. Walmart may have “always-low prices,” but its practices are not always fair.