Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Wal-Mart v. Dukes — the largest employment class-action suit in U.S. history. The retail giant did not ask the high court to review the actual charges that Wal-Mart routinely discriminated against its women employees. Instead, the company’s challenge seeks to halt the case, which represents more than 1.5 million women, before it even gets to trial.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld certification of the class-action suit three times, most recently in April 2010. But Wal-Mart argues that each employee should be forced to file their complaints on an individual basis because a group this large couldn’t possibly have enough in common to constitute a class.
“Just like the banks that were too big to fail, Wal-Mart’s lawyers are claiming the company is too big to sue!” exclaims NOW President Terry O’Neill. “The reason there are so many women in the suit is because Wal-Mart’s discrimination has been widespread and persistent. And now the captains of this ship want to be let off the hook because so many women were affected? Well, guess what: When you’re the biggest employer in the nation and the richest company in the world, and you get that way by paying unfair wages, you should expect to find yourself on the wrong end of a massive lawsuit one day. It comes with the territory, so Wal-Mart should stop trying to con its way out of court.”
NOW named Wal-Mart a “Merchant of Shame” in 2002 for its notorious employment practices and workplace environment. Chapter activists held educational pickets outside Wal-Mart stores nationwide, handing out fliers explaining the facts about Wal-Mart’s discriminatory ways.
Those shameful facts include: women earning nearly a quarter less, on average, than men, despite greater average seniority and higher performance ratings; women concentrated in lower-paying hourly jobs and being paid less even when they held the same jobs as men; women receiving raises at a slower rate than men, thus expanding the pay gap; women waiting longer for promotions and serving in management in proportions dramatically lower than the retailer’s competitors.
“For years, the Wal-Mart empire has been built upon miserly wages that were even more pitiful for women,” says O’Neill. “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.”
O’Neill concludes: “I hope the Roberts Supreme Court will set aside its usual pro-business stance to grant these women, as a class, the day in court they so richly deserve.”