Wal-Mart Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

Wal-Mart Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

Running head: WAL-MART SEX DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT WAL-MART SEX DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT Largest Case in US History Revives a Longstanding Debate By: Tambra Sullivan Minot State University BADM 537 Human Resource Management August 2011 Abstract The sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart, in which the U. S. Supreme Court handed an important victory to the retail chain on June 20, 2011, revives a longstanding debate: are disparities in the workplace due primarily to gender bias or to deep-rooted gender differences?

The answer is anything but simple. Women make up nearly two-thirds of hourly workers at Wal-Mart but only one-third of management. The complaint argued that such disparities can be explained only by bias. But can they? This paper attempts to explore this complex issue and the lawsuit outcome. Wal-mart Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Largest Case in US History Revives a Longstanding Debate The Wal-mart sexual discrimination lawsuit was filed ten years ago by three female employees.

However, the plaintiffs and their lawyers have sought to expand it into a class-action suit on behalf of every woman who has worked for Wal-Mart at any time since December 1998 — as many as 1. 5 million. While they collected statements from 120 women alleging discrimination, the main argument for the class-action suit relied on sociological and statistical analysis. Women make up nearly two-thirds of hourly workers at Wal-Mart but only one-third of management. Such disparities, the complaint argued, can be explained only by bias.

Discussion What is sex discrimination? When you are treated differently because of your sex and when the different treatment negatively affects the “terms or conditions of employment,” it is illegal. “Terms or conditions of employment” include position, pay, title, being hired or fired from a job, and advancement and training opportunities. (ERA, 2011). Sex Discrimination is against the Law The federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination in the workplace is Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Title VII applies to private employers, state and local government employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, and joint employer-union apprenticeship programs with 15 or more employees. (ERA, 2011). Past Lawsuits against Wal-mart This is not the first time that Wal-mart has had a run in with the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and it will most likely not be the last. According to a recent EEOC’s lawsuit, Wal-mart’s London, Ky. , Distribution Center denied jobs to female applicants from 1998 through February 2005.

During that time period, the EEOC contends, Wal-mart regularly hired male entry-level applicants for warehouse positions, but excluded female applicants who were equally or better qualified. The EEOC alleged that Wal-mart regularly used gender stereotypes in filling entry-level order filler positions. Hiring officials told applicants that order filling positions were not suitable for women, and that they hired mainly 18- to 25-year-old males for order filling positions, the EEOC said.

Excluding women from employment or excluding them from certain positions because of gender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The consent decree settling the suit, entered by the court on March 1, 2010, requires Wal-mart to provide order  filler jobs, as they become available, to eligible and interested female class  members, as determined by a claims administrator. Wal-mart will fill the first 50 available order filler positions with female class members. For the next 50 positions, female class members will be offered every other job.

Thereafter, every third position will be offered to female class members. “Forty-plus years after the passage  of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, far too many  employers are still blatantly excluding women from particular jobs, segregating  their workforces on the basis of sex, and denying women equal pay for equal  work,” said Acting EEOC Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “Let this major settlement serve as a warning: Employers must stop engaging in these outdated and sexist practices, or they will face severe legal consequences. (EOCC, 2010) Sears, Roebuck & Co. Many regard this case in the same category as a notorious 30-year-old sex discrimination case: the suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Sears, Roebuck & Co. , charging that women had been kept out of commission sales and herded into lower-paying salesclerk jobs. There, too, statistical disparity was taken to prove bias. From 1973 to 1980, women accounted for 43 percent of all promotions from non-commission to commission sales at Sears; EEOC experts calculated that it should have been 68 percent.

In response, the company challenged the assumption that men and women were equally interested in and qualified for commission sales. In a controversial twist, a feminist historian, Rosalind Rosenberg of Barnard College, testified as an expert witness for Sears. Men and women, Rosenberg argued, generally have different expectations and preferences regarding work — and, however, desirable more equality in the workplace may be, it is “naive” to see the disparities as proof of discrimination. Sears won the case in 1986. Workplace Demographic Research

An article published in the “Journal of Management” in March 2011 took an in-depth look into similarities that demographics plays in our overall job satisfaction and how we perceive our work environment. Research on unraveling the complex effects of workplace demographics has grown exponentially in the past two decades, reflecting enduring academic interest in the topic. A majority of the research in this area has focused on dissimilarity in terms of gender, race, and age, and the results in this area have been inconsistent. (Joshi, 2011).

These findings tend to discount any attempts by Wal-mart to conclude there were other factors at play in the overall statistics involved in the lawsuit. Wal-mart Management Practices Left-wing journalist Liza Featherstone, whose 2004 book about the case, “Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Women’s Rights at Wal-Mart,” is strongly sympathetic to the plaintiffs. In an interview, Featherstone was asked about other suits against Wal-Mart, including one by the widow of a male manager who had died of a heart attack. Featherstone explained, “Her husband was incredibly overworked, as many Wal-Mart managers are … ssistant mangers are forced to work 70-80 hours a week. In some sense, they are more exploited than hourly workers, because they are salaried, so they don’t get overtime. ” (Ibarra, 1993). In another interview, Featherstone noted that Wal-Mart expects managers to be available to work at any time and that the chief plaintiff in the women’s case, Betty Dukes, felt her career had suffered because she refused to work Sundays. All this lends credibility to Wal-Mart’s assertion that far fewer women than men have been interested in management jobs.

Does this mean that the individual claims of sex discrimination against the store are without merit? No, only that gender imbalances in such jobs do not automatically prove wrongdoing. This leads us to another topic of interest which is how much organizational demography has played a role in Wal-mart’s overall management performance throughout the years. It has been suggested that Wal-mart’s management practices have negatively influenced the overall management practices, even before the onset of this lawsuit. (Murray, 1989). High Court Ruling

The High Court unanimously agreed that the class-action suit was green-lit under an improperly broad standard — one that would confer victimhood on any current or former female Wal-Mart employee within the given time frame, with or without her consent. On another issue, however, the court split 5-4. The majority nixed any kind of class-action suit based on the plaintiffs’ claims: Justice Antonin Scalia reasoned that, since Wal-Mart left promotions and pay to the discretion of local stores, the allegations of bias involved so many varied individual decisions that they could not be lumped together as common practice.

This is a victory for Wal-mart. Conclusion The Supreme Court, by their decision in June 2011, made it harder for all workers to join together and challenge alleged bias that may not arise from a clear company policy. The decade-old Wal-Mart case had been the largest job-discrimination class action in history, potentially covering 1. 5 million women with potentially billions of dollars in liability for the nation’s largest private employer. By separate 5-4 and 9-0 votes, the high court said the class action against Wal-Mart had been improperly certified. (Biskupic, 2011).

Wal-Mart now has a program to help boost the share of female managers — launched two years ago, perhaps in response to public opinion as much as legal action. The culture is changing. To try to force this change by massive litigation based on fuzzy logic is bad for the economy, bad for the law, and many would argue ultimately bad for women as well. References Biskupic, Joan (2011) Supreme Court Limits Wal-Mart Sex Discrimination Case, USA Today, June 21, 2011. Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) (2011) – Know Your Rights: Sex Discrimination. Ibarra, H. (1993) Personal Networks of Women and Minorities in Management: A Conceptual Framework.

Academy of Management Journal, 18: 56-87. Joshi, Aparna & Liao, Hui, & Roh, Hyuntak (2011) Bridging Domains in Workplace Demography Research: A Review and Reconceptualization, Journal of Management, March 2011; vol. 37, 2: pp. 521-552, first published on June 15, 2010 Murray A. 1989. Top Management Group Heterogeneity and Firm Performance. Strategic Management Journal, 10: 125-141. U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2010); “Wal-mart to Pay More than $11. 7 Million to Settle EEOC Sex Discrimination Suit”, Press Release 3/1/2010.


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