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Walmart Sex Discrimination Claims Filed By 2,000 Women

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WALMART WOMEN LAWSUIT
Stephanie Odle, a former Sam's Club employee in Lubbock, Texas, filed a new regional class action against Walmart in October in that state. Here, in March 2011, she stood in front of the Supreme Court with other women who claim Walmart discriminated agianst them. The Supreme Court dismissed that case in June 2011. | Getty Images

Almost 2,000 women in 48 states claim that Walmart discriminated against them for pay and promotions.

May 25 was the deadline for women in most states to file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that litigates on behalf of workers against employers. EEOC charges were filed by 1,975 Walmart women before the deadline. Under most laws enforced by the EEOC, plaintiffs must file a charge with the agency before bringing a job discrimination lawsuit. The filings mean women who say Walmart systematically favors men for raises and promotions can individually pursue lawsuits, even though a class-action lawsuit against Walmart was turned away last summer by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Charges were filed in every state except Montana and Vermont (the latter has only four Walmart stores, the fewest of any state). Women in Florida, Alabama and Georgia filed the most claims. Lawyers said they hope the filings will lead to new regional class-action lawsuits. Plaintiffs in last year's failed class-action have already launched new class-action suits in California and Texas courts.

“The fact that EEOC charges were filed in every single Walmart region in the nation demonstrates the widespread and pervasive nature of Walmart’s pay and promotion discrimination against its women employees,” said Brad Seligman, a lead attorney for the women, in a statement.

Walmart said the new regional class-action lawsuits rely on the same faulty logic as the case the Supreme Court dismissed. The retail giant has asked both Texas and California judges to dismiss the new cases.

The Supreme Court dismissed the original Dukes v. Walmart class-action case in June, ruling that the 1.5 million women that Walmart employed was a group too large and too diverse to be considered a "class," and that the individual instances of alleged discrimination had too little in common to be labeled a systematic company practice. Pay and promotion decisions were made by managers in stores based on "a variety of regional policies that all differed," the court said. The court did not rule on whether discrimination occurred.

By breaking the workers into smaller groups, plaintiffs' lawyers hope it will be easier to prove that discrimination was systematic within regions of Walmart stores. Women in Texas argue in court documents that their smaller class-action challenges only the "discrete group of regional, district and store managers" who made the "biased pay and promotion decisions."

"Managers ... have the ultimate authority whether, and by how much, to adjust the pay of all hourly employees,” the plaintiffs wrote in early March. They "have long known about gender disparities yet have failed to take remedial action."

Walmart said the cases are still too diverse to be consolidated into regional class-actions. "As in Dukes, the plaintiffs here fail to identify any discrete, actionable employment practice that commonly affected all members of the still-sprawling proposed class," the company wrote in April of the Texas case in court documents.

The filings with the EEOC could also provoke that agency to launch its own investigation into Walmart. The EEOC has sued Walmart in the past, independently of the Dukes case. In 2010, Walmart settled a lawsuit brought by the EEOC, paying $11.7 million in back wages and compensation damages to women in London, Ky., who were denied jobs because of their sex.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of women who filed EEOC charges before deadline. That number is 1,975.

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