Merchant of Shame Pays Up: Wal-Mart Settles Sex-Discrimination Suit

By Jami Laubich, Communications Intern

From 1998 through Feb. 2005, a Wal-Mart distribution center in London, Ky., denied entry-level positions to qualified women telling them that warehouse jobs were not suitable for members of their sex. Refusing to hire an employee based on their sex violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In response, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought a lawsuit against Wal-Mart, and the retail giant agreed to settle. Wal-Mart will now pay $11.7 million in back wages and compensatory damages to women who were wrongfully denied employment.

The culture of the distribution center in Kentucky is also being forced to change. The distribution center will retrain staff involved with the hiring process, post a notice of non-discrimination, and use new, appropriate questions to interview potential employees. The EEOC will even require reports from Wal-Mart affirming the changes, which also include specific outlined hiring practices that focus on filling jobs with women. Furthermore, thanks to the EEOC, if an employee is discriminated against and seeks help, Wal-Mart is not allowed to retaliate against her.

NOW is no stranger to Wal-Mart’s sexist practices, naming the company a “Merchant of Shame” in 2002. Wal-Mart is notorious for profiting off of the marginalization of women, and its dismal record contradicts the worker-friendly images the company portrays to the public. For example, store managers, responsible for their stores’ performance and results, are said to freely express the view that women can afford to make less, since they are not breadwinners, and accordingly pay them wages lower than male counterparts.

Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the U.S. and the largest retailer in the world. Wal-Mart sets the standard for other companies to follow, and with this EEOC ruling as a backbone, NOW reiterates its call for an end to all forms of job placement based on gender stereotyping. A person’s sex does not dictate their ability to perform a job.

Through NOW’s Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign, both consumers and employers can sign pledges that demonstrate their commitment to women’s equal rights in the workplace.

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