Don A. Darden Jr.
May 15, 2010
In 2004 a federal judge expanded a lawsuit filed by six California women to a class action against America's single largest employer and the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart. Since then, the case has mushroomed to cover 1.6 million women Wal-Mart workers, who were employed nationwide since 1988. This by far is the largest class action in U.S. history. The article looks at two important questions: How will liability be determined? And, What can other employers learn from this? Judge Martin Jenkins indicated that Wal-Mart had failed to dispute the plaintiffs evidence that women were paid less than men in every region and in most job categories; that the salary gap widens over time even for employees hired into the same jobs; that women take longer to reach management positions; and that the higher one looks in the organization, the lower the percentage of women. Other facts cited by the plaintiffs allege that two-thirds of the company's 1.2 million U.S. workers are women, but only one-third of all managers and only 14 percent of store managers are women. As a comparison, on average, 60 per cent of the managers in general merchandise stores are women. But although these appear to be facts, none prove that there was ever any intentional, systematic bias. However, Judge Jenkins stated that they support an inference that Wal-Mart engages in discriminatory practices, and that in itself is major. Wal-Mart's defense is that the inequalities between its male and female employees have nothing to do with unlawful discrimination. What’s interesting is that typically most companies would argue that women were not interested in or at least on some level not qualified for the higher paying...