Walmart’s Unsustainable Business Practices Lead to Class Action Lawsuit
Just over a week ago, Walmart asked the US Supreme Court to overturn a ruling from the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, that would allow 1.5 million current and former female Walmart employees to file the largest class-action lawsuit in history. The case, known as Dukes v. Walmart Stores, Inc., was originally filed in 2001, claiming that Walmart actively discriminated against its female employees by denying them job assignments, promotions, training, and compensation equivalent to their male counterparts. Ironically, over the past few years as Dukes v. Walmart has been gaining support, Walmart has undergone a massive PR campaign to promote their new and varied âsustainabilityâ initiatives. These include offering a larger supply of âsustainableâ products, making stores more energy efficient, and decreasing the amount of packaging waste generated.
However, this class action lawsuit serves as a reminder that sustainability means more than just energy efficiency.
Basis for the Case: Evidence of Gender Discrimination at Walmart
The Plaintiffsâ case is based upon detailed accounts of gender discrimination appearing in 110 sworn statements from women who worked in 184 stores across 30 states. Testimony from more than 100 Walmart managers and executives, electronic payroll data, and corporate financial records provide additional support for the womenâs case and includes facts such as the following:
Although women outnumber men among hourly supervisors (by 4-1 in 2001), they are significantly underrepresented in salaried management positions, comprising 37.6% of Assistant Managers, 21.9% of Co-Managers, and 15.5% or Store Managers, according to a âExpert Reportâ testimony by Dr. William Bielby in 2003. In 1975, 38.4% of in-store management positions were filled by female employees. In 1999, only 34.5% of those positions were held by women. According to date-of-hire records, on average, women work 4.38 years before being promoted to Assistant Manager and 10.12 years before becoming a Store Manager. For men, the average is 2.86 years for Assistant Manager and 8.64 years for Store Manager.
Women who were hired in 1996 earned, on average, $0.35 less per hour than men doing the same job. Of these women, those who were still working for Walmart in 2001 earned, on average, $1.16 less per hour than men doing the same job. In 2001, women in salaried management positions earned an average of $14,500 less than men per year.
Additionally, plaintiffâs testimony document numerous accounts of sexist and discriminatory behavior coming from men in upper management positions such as being told that men âneed to be paid more than women because they have families to supportâ and that âmen are here to make a career and women arenât. Retail is for housewives who just need to earn extra money.â
In fairness to Walmart, the company claims that significant changes have been made in hiring and compensation practices since 2001.
Supersized Retail Leads to Supersized Lawsuit
In recent court proceedings, Walmartâs lawyers have argued against the validity of the class-action suit based upon its size and, in effect, its centralization of claims. They contend that discrimination, if it exists at all, is the result of specific acts committed by individuals, not company policyâ¦ and that decisions made by local manages did not have the same effect on all female workers (i.e. all members of the lawsuitâs class.) However, Judge Jenkins, of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, maintaining the plaintiffsâ assertion that managersâ actions were in line with an extremely centralized and âstrong corporate culture that includes gender stereotyping.â
Ironically, it is an application of Walmartâs governing philosophy of centralization that even makes this lawsuit possible.
Wondering what you can do?
When it comes to sustainability, sometimes itâs easy to be distracted by glitzy new technologies, claims of energy efficiency, and financial savings, but itâs crucially important to remember that the concept has a social dimension, as well. Walmart will never achieve any kind of âsustainableâ business practice until they begin to treat their employees fairly.
If youâre wondering what you can do about this, keep the following in mind: Walmartâs interpretation of âsustainabilityâ means you, the consumer, shopping at Walmart in order to buy more âsustainableâ products. However, as one female employee noted in an interview with attorney Jocelyn Larkin âpeople keep shopping at Walmart because they donât connect the fact that the low price theyâre paying is effectively subsidized by the woman at the checkout counter.â If youâre concerned about voicing your disapproval, then you, the consumer, can vote with your dollar, buying your âsustainableâ stuff elsewhere. Or better yet, not buying it at all.