EDITOR’S NOTE: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 29 in the biggest sex-discrimination case in history: Dukes v. Wal-Mart. Many pro-worker advocates are worried that the court—which has made a number of extremely conservative rulings in recent years—will decimate the ability of ordinary people to join together in class actions to sue large, well-financed companies that engage in wrongdoing and discriminate against women and minorities
To understand more about the case, Nina Martin spoke with NAM contributor Irma Herrera, a civil rights attorney who spent almost 15 years as executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, one of the main law firms in the case.
What is this case about?
This is a sex-discrimination case brought by six California women on behalf of female employees at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores across the country. The lead plaintiff, Betty Dukes, started working at the company in 1994 and still works at a Wal-Mart store in the town of Pittsburg, outside San Francisco.
The women’s claims are that: 1) they get paid less than men for doing the same jobs, and 2) the company denies them promotional opportunities even when they are better qualified and have more years of service than male co-workers. One of the things women told us repeatedly is they would train men who started working at Wal-Mart way after they did, and these men would become their supervisors. The women would think, “Wow, how unfair is that.”
Wal-Mart is a company that prides itself on promoting from within. But the women we surveyed reported innumerable obstacles when they tried to move into managerial positions, as well as discrepancies in pay that got wider and wider. At the management trainee level, women earned an average of $22,400, versus $23,200 for men. At the store manager level, it was $89,000 versus $105,000. By the time they reached the regional vice president level, women were earning $279,772, while men were averaging $419,000.
It is neither right nor fair that the nation’s largest employer can get away with widespread discrimination against women who are the backbone of the business, both as workers and as the primary consumers who shop there.