Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Walmart sex-discrimination case has profound implications

A 60-year-old Walmart employee came up against the world’s biggest retailer this week in another round of the largest sex discrimination case in history.

In a case legal experts say will redefine discrimination law in the United States, the supreme court has begun hearing arguments why Betty Dukes and more than a million women who worked for Walmart between December 1998 and the present day should be able to sue the retailer in a class action.

Walmart is appealing against an earlier court’s decisions to let the case proceed after a judge said Dukes’s lawyers had presented “significant proof of a corporate policy of discrimination”. Walmart, which is America’s largest private employer, says the case has spun out of control and threatens to cost the retailer billions if it is allowed to proceed.

The firm denies wrongdoing and argues that the accusations are too numerous and too diverse to be tried en masse. Twenty firms, including General Electric and Microsoft, have filed papers with the court in support of Walmart. The case began in 2000 when Dukes filed a sex discrimination suit, claiming she had been denied the training she needed to receive promotion.

Civil rights lawyer Brad Seligman, representing Dukes, claims Walmart systematically discriminated against female employees, who were under-represented in management positions and were paid less than male colleagues. In salaried positions, Seligman argues, women comprise 37,6% of assistant managers, 21,9% of co-managers and 15,5% of store managers. Figures from 2001 show that it took women an average 4,38 years from the date they were hired to be promoted to assistant manager, compared with 2,86 years for men.

The court’s decision is likely to have a profound impact on other groups of women bringing sex discrimination suits against employers in the US, says Melissa Hart, the director of the Byron R White centre for the study of American constitutional law at the University of Colorado. Hart says a loss would “make it increasingly difficult for women to challenge discrimination in the workplace”.

Should the courts rule in Dukes’s favour lawyers expect a new set of discrimination class actions to be brought, not just on behalf of women but also for minorities or people with disabilities. A win for Walmart would be a big blow for job-bias cases, making it harder to argue that employees who work in different stores and hold different jobs have enough in common to be a class. — Guardian News & Media 2011

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

R15m to rid Gauteng of dirty air

The World Bank is funding a plan to deal with air pollution in Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Johannesburg

Reservations about ‘new deal’ for rhinos, lions, elephant, leopards

Draft policy promotes species playing their role in wilderness systems but one conservationist says leopards are being sold out

More top stories

Malawi moves to Maggie Mkandawire’s beat

Empowering her people through music and education, Maggie Mkandawire fights the Covid-19 pandemic in her own unique way

Vaccines split global recovery – IMF

The global economy will expand by 6% this year but the economic gap between nations is widening.

R15m to rid Gauteng of dirty air

The World Bank is funding a plan to deal with air pollution in Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Johannesburg

Reservations about ‘new deal’ for rhinos, lions, elephant, leopards

Draft policy promotes species playing their role in wilderness systems but one conservationist says leopards are being sold out
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×