Court of Appeals Approves Class-Action Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Against Walmart
San Francisco's 9th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 6 to 5 Monday in a ruling that means a gender discrimination lawsuit filed against Walmart Stores, Inc., can move forward to trial. According to The Washington Post, the class-action lawsuit was initially filed in 2001 by Betty Dukes, a former Walmart employee, and six other plaintiffs who worked in 13 of Walmart's 3,400 US stores.
The Appeals Court did not rule on the discrimination allegations, but only on whether the class named in the lawsuit, more than 1 million current and former women employees, can sue as a class. Court documents define the class as "all women employed at any Walmart domestic retail store at any time since Dec. 26, 1998," reported ABC News. Walmart's executive vice president and general counsel, Jeff Gearhart, hoped to appeal to the Supreme Court, stating the company does "not believe the claims alleged by the six individuals who brought this suit are representative of the experiences of our female associates."
The plaintiffs claimed that men systematically earn higher wages and receive promotions at Walmart, despite women's competitive quality of work and seniority factors. Dukes said in an interview with ABC News, that she knew "at the end of the day, a male was going to have the position. If you make too much noise, you could put your job at jeopardy." Co-lead Council Joseph Sellers added, "When asking why they didn't get a promotion that went to a man, [the women] were told management is men's work, not women's work. You should be home taking care of your family."
Marsha Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center told ABC, "I can't imagine a bigger message being sent to bigger employers and to employers overall. That [big companies] can be held accountable, the laws apply to them."
Judge Sandra Ikuta, who voted against considering the women as a class, told Reuters, "No court has ever certified a class like this one, until now, and with good reason." She said there is not enough evidence "to bind these purported 1.5 million claims together in a single action."
In the majority opinion, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote, "although the size of this class action is large, mere size does not render a case unmanageable," according to Reuters. A lower court will settle on whether women who worked for Walmart between 1998 and 2001 will be included in the class and whether women may seek back-pay and possible punitive damages against the company, said The Washington Post.