Yesterday, March 29th the Supreme Court heard arguments in Duke v. Wal-Mart, the largest employment discrimination class-action suit in American history. What began in 2001 by six female employees will now include more than a million women and may cost the retailer billions in damages.
In 2001, Betty Dukes sued Wal-Mart for sex discrimination in a lawsuit filed on behalf of every woman who worked for the company since 1998—roughly 1.5 million women. According to the plaintiffs, a common culture of sexism led to a pattern and practice of discrimination against women working at Wal-Mart stores nationwide. The New York Times reported that women make up only 33% of the company’s managers but comprise 65% of hourly employees.
Although the Supreme Court has not yet decided if the all women should join in a single case, the pending lawsuit has turned the spotlight onto the issue of continuing gender discrimination in the United States.
Sociologist and Best-selling author BJ Gallagher published a column on the Huffington Post connecting Duke V. Wal-Mart to challenges women face in the business world. According to Gallagher, women in business are often ignored by the “dog ears” of their male counterparts. The problem with this kind of discrimination is that it is difficult to quantify. But Gallagher backs up her claim with some concrete numbers from the Wall Street Journal business best-seller list. In a story those of us at the OpEd Project are all to familiar with, Gallagher reports that of the top 15 titles listed each week, almost 100% are written by men.
If this reflected a true lack of female experts from the business world, this would be less of an issue. But Gallagher writes “more new businesses formed were started by women than women in the last twenty-five years … and women business owners employ 35% more people than the Fortune 500 combined!“
Women are still paid less than 80% of what men in comparable jobs are paid. If the Wal-Mart class action suit is taken on by the Supreme Court, their decision will probably be its most important business ruling this term. Regardless of the outcome, the efforts of the Wal-Mart women are sending a wake-up call to the corporate world. Sexual discrimination, no matter what we may wish to believe, is still a major problem. If you have an experience or idea regarding women in the workplace, now is the time to voice it!