Although it is America’s largest retailer (and growing fast in other nations), Wal-Mart is a legendarily shitty employer. A list detailing their sweatshop-y, discriminatory and just plain revolting treatment of their employees—many barely making a living wage—would take me hours to assemble. If you’re interested, Wikipedia has a thorough compilation of Wal-Mart’s many sins, the epic lawsuits and the hundreds of millions of dollars of settlements that resulted.
So I was thrilled when I read yesterday that a gender discrimination suit against Wal-Mart, filed in 2001, was certified as class-action by the US Court of Appeals (Ninth Circuit—holla!) This allows attorneys go after Wal-Mart for punitive damages, back pay and other compensation on behalf of not just the six original plaintiffs, but over a million women who’ve been employed by Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart has been dragging this case up the judicial food chain for years now specifically to prevent this. The suit was ruled class-action in 2004, when a US District judge wrote:
[The female plaintiffs] present largely uncontested descriptive statistics which show that women working at Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men in every region, that pay disparities exist in most job categories, that the salary gap widens over time, that women take longer to enter management positions, and that the higher one looks in the organization the lower the percentage of women.
Yesterday one of the plaintiff’s attorneys told the New York Times:
“Wal-Mart tries to project an improved image as a good corporate citizen,” said Brad Seligman, “No amount of P.R. is going to work until it addresses the claims of its female employees.”
I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart years ago, even though it occasionally meant driving out of my way. Fortunately, I now live in one of the few places on earth—New York City—that has withstood the Wal-Mart juggernaut, so spending my money elsewhere isn’t that difficult. (We still don’t have Wal-Mart because our local labor unions are very powerful, and politicians here need union votes more than they want Wal-Mart money.) I hope these women, their lawyers, and the courts jack up Wal-Mart’s shit in truly epic fashion. Wal-Mart’s always thrown its size and weight around in order to intimidate everyone from suppliers to union organizers and dissident employees—but with a class-action suit of this magnitude and hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, they’ve finally met their match.