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Wal-Mart Versus A Million Workers

Audio

Aired 3/30/11

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday about the largest sex discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history.

— Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest private employer and one of the biggest companies in the world. Ten years ago, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than one million current and past employees. It claims Wal-Mart discriminates against women in pay and promotions.

Wal-Mart denies the allegations.

But, the Supreme Court is not judging the merits of the case just yet. Instead the justices must first decide if it’s legal to for a class action lawsuit to include so many people.

Dan Eaton is an employment-law attorney in San Diego. He’s familiar with the case and said large companies will be directly impacted by the decision.

“When you add potentially tens, hundreds, thousands of people in a single lawsuit you can imagine that the threat of such a lawsuit and the potential financial damage of that lawsuit are very serious for a company,” said Eaton.

He also said, “ If a class-action suit of this size is allowed to proceed, it will certainly increase the pressure on companies in the future, to settle similar lawsuits rather than face a jury.”

But, Eaton said, if the court rules in favor of Wal-Mart, then lawsuits against businesses would have to be done in a more conventional way.

“It means that these large, aggregated-group kinds of claims may be more difficult to bring. It also means individuals will have to go the more conventional route of having to prove their claims on a case by case basis,” explained Eaton.

Doreen Mattingly, PhD., is a women’s study’s professor at San Diego State University. She said the outcome would impact both men and women.

“Its not just a women’s issue, it’s a family income issue and it’s a worker’s-rights issue,” Mattingly said.

She also explained that the wage gap affects all low-income employees, especially working mothers.

“The greatest wage gap is between mothers and all other workers—that’s especially true for unskilled mothers who make hourly pay. It’s not between women and men as much, because women without children have a very small wage gap relative to men,” said Mattingly.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision on the case by July.

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