Sex Discrimination at Walmart

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Betty Dukes was hired in May 1994 as a part-time cashier at Wal-Mart in Pitsburg, California. Within a year she became a full-time employee and two years later she was promoted to Customer Service Manager. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Dukes complained to the District Manager about discriminatory treatment from the head of her dept. and the store manager. After complaining, she was written up for a series of rules violations that were seldom enforced. In Aug. 1999 she was demoted back to cashier and her hours and wages were reduced. Despite the retaliation Ms. Dukes aspired to higher positions but each time the open position was filled without being posted, usually with a man. On June 19, 2001, Dukes et al. filed a suit against Wal-Mart for discriminating against them as women and all female employees during the previous five years. The evidence that Wal-Mart as a company was guilty of sex discrimination was based largely on statistical analysis of personnel data. The following issues were highlighted; (i) The suit alleged that female employees in Wal-Mart stores were less likely than men to be promoted. (ii) When they were promoted advancements came slowly and their pay lagged behind that of men. (iii) Promotion opportunities were not usually made known and open positions were often filled with employees previously identified and groomed by store managers. Wal-Mart’s defense was that the statistical disparities were caused by the company’s pay and promotion practices as store managers were authorized to use their discretion when making decisions which led them to unconscious bias (stereotyping and in-group favoritism) with regards to the pay and promotions. Additionally, it was said that women were not interested in and/or not qualified for the higher paying jobs.

Ethical Views

Utilitarian Argument
The Utilitarianism holds that an action is judged as right, good or wrong on the basis of its consequences. With regards to discrimination, one standard argument is that it creates an economically inefficient matching of people to jobs. When evaluations are done on the basis of characteristics such as race or sex, which is not job related, productivity suffers. Another utilitarian view takes into to consideration the consequences of discrimination to the welfare of society as a whole. Sexism serves to disadvantage women as a group and it can create social problems and externally can be costly to society.

Kantian Argument/Moral Right
The non-utilitarian argument against sexual discrimination, takes the approach that discrimination is wrong because it violates a person’s basic moral rights. The Kantian argument holds that human beings should be treated as ends and never used merely as means. At minimum, this principle means that each individual has a moral right to be treated as a free person equal to any other person and that all individuals have a correlative moral duty to treat each individual as a free and equal person. The victims of sexual discrimination are not merely disadvantaged by being forced to settle for less desirable jobs and lower pay; they are also deprived of a fundamental moral right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Arguments on Justice
Another argument against discrimination is that it is viewed as a violation of the principle of justice. To many principles of justice it is a requirement that we are able to justify our treatment of other people by giving good reasons, but to discriminate is to treat people differently when there is no good reason for doing so. John Rawls defends the principle of equal opportunity; “ Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are attached to offices and position open to all under condition of fair equality of opportunity. In other words, discrimination violates this principle by arbitrarily closing off to minorities the more desirable offices and position in an institution, thereby not giving them an opportunity equal...
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