Walmart Bias Case In Court Tuesday
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is set to begin hearing oral arguments in Dukes v Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.tomorrow, a case originally filed in California about 10 years ago.
While it has been labeled the largest sex discrimination class-action law suit in history, the court will not be determining whether Wal-Mart is guilty of sex discrimination, as accused by the plaintiffs—Wal-Mart employee Betty Dukes and six other women, all of them former Wal-Mart employees.
Instead, the court will be determining whether Dukes and her fellow plaintiffs can sue the retail giant as a class that includes more than one million women who worked for Wal-Mart at any time from late December 1998 to present day.
Caren Goldberg, a management professor at American University’s Kogod School of Business and an expert on sex discrimination in the workplace, says that “from a management/HR perspective, the issue boils down to this: What is the appropriate decision-making level (i.e., individual manager, store, district/region, or corporate-wide) for examining the climate and culture as it pertains to women's advancement opportunities and salaries?”
According to numerous news reports, the original case claims include Dukes’ and the other women’s allegations that they were paid less than male colleagues who had less seniority but performed similar work and were overlooked for promotions on numerous occasions. It also includes sworn affidavits from more than 100 female current and former Wal-Mart employees, all detailing allegations of sexual discrimination.
The plaintiffs argue the fact that so many individual managers made similar decisions about women's salaries points to flaws at the corporate level that permitted or encouraged managers to make similar types of decisions, despite being geographically dispersed.
Wal-Mart argues that because these decisions were made by individual managers at different stores across the country, the women who were affected should not be considered a class.
“While the case involves sex discrimination, it would not be hard to imagine other organizations facing similar issues with regard to other protected groups—for example, companies where African-Americans might be paid or promoted less across geographically dispersed stores, branches, etc.,” said Goldberg on why the outcome of the Supreme Court hearings could have far-reaching implications.
A ruling in favor of Wal-Mart will mean women or members of other protected groups will have to take on large organizations in smaller numbers (either individually or in a much smaller, more cohesive group).
“A ruling for the plaintiffs could put big business on notice,” Goldberg said. “Other large organizations would have a reason to be nervous that every multi-plaintiff case might evolve into a multi-million plaintiff case.”