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Dukes Puts 'Em Up Again

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WALMART

Remember Dukes v. Walmart, the case that the Roberts Supreme Corporate Court threw out last summer (after 11 years of slogging through lower courts) because the company claimed it was too big to be sued for sex discrimination?

Well, like Freddy Krueger every Halloween, it's ba-a-a-ck. And it ought to scare the hell out of Walmart execs and stockholders alike. The case was re-filed in California October 27 as a class action against California Walmart and Sam's Club stores. Betty Dukes, the lead plaintiff, is joined by thousands of female California Walmart employees in claiming a pattern and practice of sex discrimination in hiring and promotion.

This is not a sour grapes, get-revenge-for-a-bad beat action. The Supremes never ruled on the allegations of discrimination in the case. They just sided with the company when it claimed a class encompassing Walmart stores nationwide was unwieldy. Dukes and her sisters want their day in court on the sex discrimination charges.

The new action relies on new statistical analyses, conducted store by store and district by district -- not part of the Supreme Court record -- that shows women in the California stores and regions have been paid less than men in comparable positions. They also had a much lower chance of getting promoted than men, and those who did get promoted waited significantly longer to get the nod. And one other little thing -- on average the women have more seniority and higher performance ratings than men.

The complaint also confirms that Wal-Mart's regional, district and store managers had biased views of women. In 2004, Wal-Mart's district managers were told at a meeting with Wal-Mart's then-CEO that they "were the culture" and that the key to success was "single focus to get the job done... women tend to be better at information processing. Men are better at single focus objective." The managers were then told to create a "culture of execution" and a "culture of results" as they picked "future leaders."

He forgot to say women should stay at home and have babies while men go out and slay dragons.

But that's just one small tidbit about management policy. It's what happened to these women on the store floor that really counts. What Betty Dukes, (who has been working as a greeter for the last 10 years since she was busted from manager for complaining) reads like a house of workplace horrors. Her district manager based his conclusion that women weren't interested in management on his mother, a woman who had never worked at Wal-Mart and, who decades earlier, had not been interested in advancement.

Documents show that other women were demoted, fired, pigeon-holed and demeaned -- not to mention paid less and consistently passed over for promotion. Even though grand-daddy Sam Walton admitted before he died that the company policies were biased against female employees, his sons and daughters have never done anything about it.

The size of the group this time is "only" 90,000 -- as opposed to 1.6 million in the original suit. Let's hope Wal-Mart doesn't drag these women through another 11 years of hell just to save a buck. The company is ranked second in the Fortune 500 and is the nation's largest non-government employer.

Members of the Walton family hold four of the top eleven positions on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans, with assets of over $80 billion. If they gave up just a measly nickle on the dollar, they could raise the wages of their approximately 869,000 female workers by over $2.20 per hour -- enough to lift many of those lowest paid women above the poverty line -- and just incidentally keep the company out of the courthouse.