June 23, 2004

Wal-Mart’s “”Open Door”” Slams Shut for Women Workers

WAL-MART’S “”OPEN DOOR”” SLAMS SHUT FOR WOMEN WORKERSWal-Mart On Trial In The largest Sex Discrimination Lawsuit In History

“”…women working at Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men…and, that the higher one looks in [Wal-Mart] the lower the percentage of women.”” Judge Martin Jenkins in his decision granting class action status citing the “”largely uncontested descriptive statistics”” presented by the plaintiffs in the case.

The “”door”” in Wal-Mart’s much touted “”open door policy”” of personnel management does not open wide enough to let women into higher paid jobs or management positions, according to allegations contained in a suit brought against the nation’s largest private employer. Despite its denials and legal maneuvers, Wal- Mart will have to stand trial and face the charges of pervasive sex discrimination in the largest civil rights class action case in history.

Six women stood up to challenge pay and promotion practices at Wal-Mart stores across the country. Now a federal judge has certified the case—Dukes v. Wal- Mart Stores, Inc.(N.D. Cal. No C-01-2252)—as a nationwide class action sex discrimination lawsuit covering all women employees who worked a U.S. Wal-Mart store anytime since December 26, 1998. More than 1.6 million women will be represented in the lawsuit.

In issuing his decision, U. S. District Court Judge Martin Jenkins referred to the overwhelming evidence presented in the case showing a pattern of lower pay, fewer promotions and less opportunity for women at Wal-Mart in every region of the country. Expert reports relied upon in the judge’s decision exposed the reality behind Wal-Mart’s smiling face. Women who had worked longer for Wal-Mart, had higher job performance evaluations, and did the same jobs were paid less than the men they worked next to. The sexism prevalent in Wal-Mart’s management practices robbed women and their families of the pay they worked for. Wal-Mart devalued women’s work, and paid them less simply because Wal-Mart thought it could get away with it.

The 1.4 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has been actively organizing, mobilizing and empowering women to take action to create equity in all workplaces. In instances where there was evidence of sex discrimination, the UFCW regularly refers workers to attorneys experienced in civil rights litigation. From small groups of women workers talking with each other, with the UFCW, with public interest groups and civil rights lawyers grew the legal action that Judge Jenkins described as “”historic in nature, dwarfing other employment discrimination cases before it.””

Wal-Mart has aggressively sought to suppress workers in the exercise of their rights, and has been particularly focused on dissuading workers from connecting with each other or acting as a group. Workers are repeatedly told they do not need “”third party representation”” and that Wal-Mart has an open door policy that allows workers as individuals to resolve their problems with management. Wal-Mart’s failure to address issues of sex discrimination as reflected in the Dukes case, and the success of women acting together with a strong voice and effective representation to take their case forward, however, demonstrate that Wal-Mart’s management system is fatally flawed and cannot meet the needs of a 21st century workforce.

“”An organized voice for workers is the solution for the problems—from low pay to inadequate health care, from high turnover to discrimination—at Wal-Mart. The Dukes case is an inspiration for all other Wal-Mart workers that acting together they too can bring change to the workplace,”” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President.