Equal Opportunity Shouldn’t End at “You’re Hired”

By Courtney Shaffer
USW Intern

Walmart, one of the world’s largest employers, is again facing the prospect of a class action lawsuit alleging the company discriminates in its promotion and pay practices, favoring men over women workers.

The complaint, filed on Nov. 6, mirrors one filed in 2001. In the earlier case,  1.6 million women gained class certification in 2004. But in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that class action designation, claiming the case was too big. Since then, more than 2,000 women have filed new claims regarding workplace discrimination.

Walmart is supposed to be an equal opportunity employer. That means it would be illegal for Walmart to violate the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s anti-discrimination guidelines, not just in the hiring process, but in all aspects of paying and promoting workers.

The women who are plaintiffs in the current case claim Walmart continues to fail in this basic measure of employment equality.  They say that the criteria managers use to promote workers does not always include industry experience or job performance, often leaving qualified, experienced women out of the running for better jobs.

They also claim that Walmart has failed to openly announce job openings or include information such as the need to relocate or travel, which has put women at a further disadvantage. 

Class action lawsuits are among the few methods nonunion employees can use to seek redress for unfair treatment by employers.  Since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision to grant class certification in the 2001 case, it has been substantially more difficult for women to secure judicial intervention in workplace disputes against employers like Walmart.

To increase the chances for this claim to be successful, the workers filed a complaint for workers only in the southeast region of the United States, representing thousands of employees rather than a million plus.

“Wal-Mart maintained a pattern or practice of gender discrimination in compensation and promotion,"  the complaint states. “And, in each of the above regions, the compensation and promotion policies and practices of Wal-Mart had a disparate impact, not justified by business necessity, on its female employees in the region.”