Women Suing Wal-Mart Again

October 30th, 2011
in econ_news

wal-mart-store Econintersect:  New suits against Wal-Mart have been filed by attorneys in California and Texas on behalf of women employees claiming sexual discrimination.  According to the Los Angeles Times, the suit in that state, filed October 17, is by five current or former employees on behalf of all women working in California Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club stores from December 1998 to the present time.  Reuters reports that the Texas suit was filed on Friday in Dallas.  The Texas suit is filed by Stephanie Odle, who has worked at Sam’s Club stores in three states.  Odle claims she was unfairly denied a promotion.

Follow up:

The Texas complaint is also filed as a class action. It is estimated that the California suit may cover as many as 95,000 current and former employees and 45,000 in Texas.

It is not clear how the new suits will fare should any of them get to the U.S. Supreme Court, based on a national suit (on essentially the same allegations) that was previously thrown out by the high court.  From SF Gate:

On June 20, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court derailed a sexual discrimination suit against Wal-Mart on Monday by more than 1 million female employees, saying the female plaintiffs failed to show that any of the retail giant's policies had denied them equal pay and promotions.

The justices unanimously overruled federal courts in San Francisco that had allowed all women who worked for Wal-Mart since December 1998 to join in a single nationwide suit seeking back pay. But on the most critical issues in the case, a five-member majority led by Justice Antonin Scalia set tough new standards for future suits:

-- A company that allows local managers to decide pay and promotions can't be held responsible for sex-based corporate disparities unless they can be tied to some company-wide practice that amounts to "a general policy of discrimination."

-- A company whose policies denied women equal pay would be entitled to individual hearings on the amount due to each worker.  An appeals court would have allowed hearings for a sample group of employees to determine back pay for the entire class, an approach that would save time and money but, Scalia said, would be unfair to the company.

The court did not address the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims that female Wal-Mart employees were paid less than men in every region and were under-represented at every level of management.

The final statement above, highlighted by Econintersect, appears to have left the door open for the new suits.  However, Wal-Mart feels that the company is in a good position.  From the LA Times:

The new filing won't answer the Supreme Court's concerns, said attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who represents Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart.

"The Supreme Court rejected these very same class action theories when it reversed the plaintiffs' lawyers' last effort in June," he said. "The plaintiffs' lawyers do not come close to meeting the standards for obtaining class certification and their arguments still rely on the same incorrect and discredited theories that the Supreme Court repudiated."

The California and Texas actions are the first of "an armada of cases" to be filed against Wal-Mart on behalf of female employees in individual states or regions, said attorney Joseph Sellers, who also represents the women.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Reuters and SF Gate

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