Monday, June 20, 2011

Women and Wal-Mart: The Final Word

Photo by Eurofruit

The outcome would determine if feminism had reached a new era of advancement in the workplace-- or if big businesses would continue to marginalize women, leaving the glass ceiling firmly in tact.

Wal-Mart v. Dukes was argued on March 29, 2011. Three months later the verdict is in and "the Supreme Court has ruled for Wal-Mart in its fight to block a massive sex discrimination lawsuit on behalf of women who work there."

This reverses a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The corporation's alleged sexism is in direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While several women across the nation have accused Wal-Mart of failing to offer them equal employment opportunities, the high court decided these injustices were isolated incidents.

Any similarities in the stores' (seemingly unfair) practices were merely coincidental.

After a spring filled with speculation and uncertainty, the Supreme Court agreed a class action suit would be "too big" and evidence was "too vague" to proceed. The trial could have involved 1.5 million women, costing Wal-Mart billions of dollars in damages.

The plaintiffs can still file their claims independently-- and settle for significantly less money. But the individual outcomes are unlikely to influence future policies.

Even though Wal-Mart training materials said men seek promotions more aggressively, and there are consistent wage and promotional gaps between male and female employees reflecting this self-fulfilling prophecy, the judges said they could not find sexist policies in place.

Five members of the bench upheld the interests of big businesses while four appeared to be on the side of civil rights. Justice Scalia wrote the final opinion stating the class did not have common questions of law or fact.

But Justice Ginsburg said the cases were obviously related-- "Wal-Mart's delegation of discretion over pay and promotions is a policy uniform throughout all stores." Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayer, and Stephen Breyer were in agreement.

While no Republicans have commented yet, Democrats are disheartened, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) who offered this:
Today’s ruling is yet another bad decision from the Supreme Court for women, and I am very disappointed. It is a blow not only to the employees who filed this lawsuit, and have been fighting for equal pay for over 10 years, but to the millions of women across the country facing workplace discrimination every day. This decision is about fairness, about the world’s largest private employer paying over a million women less than their male counterparts — and while it is certainly a setback, we will continue fighting.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said "Today's ruling underscores the need to act boldly and strongly on behalf of women's rights." Representatives like DeLauro promised they will continue to pursue the Paycheck Fairness Act in an attempt to remedy this unfortunate situation.

Down, but not out, former Wal-Mart employees Christine Kwapnoski and Betty Dukes have vowed to keep fighting.

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