ACLU Tells Supreme Court That Class Action Lawsuit Challenging Sex Discrimination At Wal-Mart Should Go Forward

March 1, 2011

Class Action Would Address Wal-Mart Employees’ Claims Of Systemic Discrimination Against Women, Says Group

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Women’s Law Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court today, along with 32 other organizations, supporting a class action lawsuit filed against Wal-Mart for systemic discrimination against the company’s female employees at stores across the country. A group of female employees initially sued Wal-Mart 10 years ago, claiming the company paid them lower wages and gave them fewer promotions than men – even when they had higher performance ratings and more seniority than their male counterparts. The women claimed the treatment violated their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which ensures protection against discrimination in the workplace. The Supreme Court will decide whether the class action lawsuit can go forward.

“Denying women equal pay and equal opportunities at work violates our fundamental values of fairness and equality,” said Lenora M. Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “All employees should have the right to challenge unequal treatment in the workplace. A class action lawsuit is the best mechanism to allow the employees of Wal-Mart, one of the largest employers in the country, to address their claims of discrimination.”

The brief addresses three aspects of sex discrimination: significant disparities between women and men in pay and promotions, archaic sex stereotypes that influence employment decisions and systemic barriers that block individual women from challenging the discrimination.

The evidence presented by the plaintiffs includes reports that Wal-Mart managers across the country relied on archaic sex stereotypes in denying promotions and equal pay for women. In court declarations, women described how they were told that men deserve the promotions and higher pay because they have families to support, while women are just working to make “extra money.” They also described how they were confined to departments such as cosmetics and women’s clothing, and denied jobs in hardware, meat-cutting and firearms. Other women reported that they were told they could never advance because they were not part of a “boys club” or were told they should stay in the kitchen with a “bun in the oven” instead of advancing their careers.

“Plaintiffs presented evidence that Wal-Mart managers undervalued women and espoused outdated stereotypes about their roles in the workplace,” said Ariela Migdal, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The women allege that Wal-Mart’s nationwide practice of leaving pay and promotion decisions up to local managers allowed the stereotypes to limit their opportunities. Because of this, the women should be able to pursue their class action.”

The brief argues that a class action lawsuit is necessary because many of the employees affected would not have the ability or resources to bring such a lawsuit individually, and would have reason to fear retaliation if they proceeded alone in challenging the company. Additionally, because employees claim they are forbidden from discussing their pay levels with each other, it is difficult to determine if they are being treated differently. The class action rules were designed, in part, to allow individuals to overcome such barriers.

“The Supreme Court should, consistent with precedent, ensure that individuals can continue to seek justice collectively, instead of creating obstacles for low-paid workers seeking redress,” said Linda Lye, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “The Court should allow this class action lawsuit to go forward to give the women of Wal-Mart a chance to fight for their rights.”

The brief can be viewed here: www.aclu.org/womens-rights/wal-mart-stores-v-dukes-aclu-amicus-brief

More information on the ACLU’s work fighting sex discrimination in the workplace can be found here: www.aclu.org/fighting-sex-discrimination-job

 

 

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