December 7, 2016
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Sex Discrimination Case Against Walmart Gains Supporters

 

WASHINGTON - The National WomenÂ’s Law Center (NWLC) has today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case WAL-MART STORES, INC. v. BETTY DUKES, et al. together with the American Civil Liberties Union and 32 other organizations in support of a class of current and former women employees of Wal-Mart. A group of women employees initially filed this lawsuit ten years ago, claiming the company paid them lower wages and gave them fewer promotions than men—even when they had higher performance ratings and more seniority than their male counterparts. 

“The case before the Supreme Court raises a critical question about whether employees will continue to have the ability to join together as a group in court to effectively challenge employer discrimination,” said NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger. “The decision will have far-reaching implications not only for the hundreds of thousands of female employees of Wal-Mart but also for virtually all working women in the United States who challenge the discrimination they face in pay, promotions, and other such basic workplace issues. The ability of women to be treated fairly in the workplace hangs in the balance.”

The brief highlights the significant role of class actions in remedying pay discrimination and other forms of sex discrimination in the workplace, and the decades of legal precedents that would be overturned if this class action were prevented from proceeding. It details the broad-based nature of discrimination alleged at Wal-Mart. It includes statements from women around the country, who report that managers believed women were not breadwinners but instead were family caretakers and should be clustered into certain jobs at Wal-Mart and receive less pay and fewer managerial responsibilities. For example, a woman reported that a male manager said that “women should be home barefoot and pregnant.” Another stated that a senior vice president told her that she would not advance because she did not “hunt, fish, or do other typically-male activities” and was not “a part of the boys club.”

The brief also places the discrimination alleged at Wal-Mart in its broader context by highlighting the significant disparities in wages and promotions that exist nationwide—with the wage gap still stagnant at 77 percent, class actions are the traditional and indeed essential means for addressing the sort of persistent discrimination alleged at Wal-Mart, which women still face in many workplaces around the country. 

“This case goes to the heart of efforts to eradicate discrimination in the workplace through Title VII, the federal law that bans sex-based discrimination in employment,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC Vice President for Education and Employment.  Â“The Supreme Court has long held that employees may proceed together to challenge a corporate policy that empowers managers to discriminate—indeed, it is only by permitting employees to proceed collectively and overcome the barriers to bringing thousands of individual lawsuits that Title VIIÂ’s purpose will be achieved.” 

 Â“If the Supreme Court were to turn back the ability of women to assert their rights as a group, it would ignore the purposes of the class action mechanism and be tantamount to closing the courthouse door on large numbers of women across the country who donÂ’t have the financial means to file their own cases,” added Greenberger. “The Supreme Court shut out an individual trying to vindicate her right to fair pay in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. We urge the Court not to do the same now that the women of Wal-Mart have joined together to bring their claims of unfair pay and promotion.  If the Supreme Court upholds the lower courtÂ’s decision, the women of Wal-Mart will have a true chance to equalize pay and promotions, and women around the country will still have a basic tool to vindicate their rights in court.” 

READ FULL BRIEF HERE

 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), AFL-CIO, and Change to Win have also filed a joint amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the plaintiffs.

A joint statement follows:

“For more than 45 years, American workers have sought protection from the courts for equal treatment in the workplace. Workers have joined together to remedy widespread discriminatory workplace practices through class action proceedings and by applying the nation’s civil rights standards to their workplaces. Today, Walmart is attempting to undo that standard by claiming its female associates have no right to appeal for justice as a class.

In our amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, we ask the court to uphold the fundamental pillar of the Civil Rights Act and to ensure that the class action process remains open to workers in all industries.

Walmart is not too big for justice. No employer should be beyond justice for its workers. Workers must have a voice in the legal process. The cost to Walmart if it loses the suit would be a fair recompensation for billions of dollars in lost wages and benefits owed to female employees who have lost opportunities as a result of Walmart’s discriminatory actions.

With more than 1.4 million associates nationwide, Walmart has single-handedly transformed the American economy by setting workplace standards by which all other retailers and employers are forced to compete. Because Walmart’s employment practices are so influential, its female associates must be allowed to have their day in court. We congratulate the brave women who initiated this complaint and who seek to create a Walmart workplace that treats all associates equally.”


The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream.

 



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