Wal-Mart lawsuit aimed to help 700,000 women

Plaintiffs claim bias in pay and promotions

February 16, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Attorneys want to include 700,000 women who have worked for Wal-Mart in the largest employment discrimination class action in American history.

The lawsuit accuses the nation's largest nongovernment employer of favoring men over women in promotions and pay.

The plaintiffs want all women who worked at Wal-Mart from 1996 to 2001 eligible for awards in the suit. The attorneys plan to file their motion for class certification in April.

The lawsuit, filed in 2001 in federal court in San Francisco, focuses largely on one statistic: In 2001, the suit claims, women made up 65 percent of Wal-Mart's hourly employees and 33 percent of its managers.

The suit also claims pay disparities. A study by Richard Drogin, an emeritus professor of statistics at California State University at Hayward hired by the plaintiffs' attorneys, found that full-time female hourly employees who had worked at least 45 weeks at Wal-Mart made about $1,150 less per year than men in similar jobs, a 6.2 percent gap. Female store managers made an average of $89,280 a year, $16,400 less than men.

"There is strong evidence that the company is mistreating women because they are women," said Joseph Sellers, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Wal-Mart officials have called the lawsuit baseless, saying it reflects lawyers' efforts to squeeze a company whose annual revenues exceed $230 billion.

"We do not discriminate against anyone, including women," said Mona Williams, Wal-Mart's vice president for communications.

She said women's lack of interest in managerial jobs helped explain the lower percentage of female managers. When Wal-Mart posted notices company-wide last month inviting workers to apply to become management trainees, only 43 percent of those who expressed interest were women, she said.

Employees involved in the lawsuit tell a different story.

In depositions, one woman said a manager told her that a man was promoted over a qualified women because "he has a family to support." Another woman testified that a department manager in South Carolina explained to her that Wal-Mart paid men more than women because the Bible says God made Adam before Eve.

More than 40 pending lawsuits accuse Wal-Mart of pressuring or forcing employees to work unpaid hours.

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