Walmart is facing potentially the largest class action suit ever brought against a company. Estimates run as high as one million employees involved although Walmart has stated that it thinks it is “only” half a million.
Walmart is now in the process of trying to get its case tossed out of court. In its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court it stated that each store is its own entity and therefore Walmart as an overall company can’t be sued. It also argued that there are too many potential plaintiffs and that the size of the suit renders it unmanageable.
This suit is significant not just because of its size. It will mark the first time a major company has been required to defend its pay and promotion policies in terms of sex discrimination. The original suit, which was brought in 2001 by seven women, alleged that female employees are consistently paid less than male employees, are promoted less often than men, and wait longer for chances for promotion.
It was subsequently decided that the suit qualified as a class action suit, and that it covers every woman employed at Walmart from 1998 to the present.
A class action suit makes it impossible for an individual woman to sue on her own behalf, but the sheer numbers in this suit would doubtless make a bigger impact on Walmart’s (and other companies’) pay and promotion policies in the future. If Walmart loses, it would take a financial hit of billions of dollars. Individual women suing Walmart would barely be noticed unless they won multimillion dollar settlements (which is not likely).
By rights, this suit, and Walmart’s attempts to wiggle out of it, should be headline news all through the fall, when the Supreme Court will probably rule on it. And it may well be, but I doubt it will be because it is about women. Its main significance is probably going to be seen as its impact on future class action suits instead of on how women employees are treated at Walmart. It’s only the sheer size of the suit that’s putting it in the headlines at all.
Some people will defend Walmart because they know women who are happy working there. But that doesn’t mean that Walmart isn’t guilty of the charges against it. (After all, slavery wasn’t right, even though some slave owners were humane and some slaves seemed to be happy with their lot.) I’m sure there are individual women who have done well at Walmart, at least in their eyes. But do they really know how much better off they could have done if Walmart didn’t have a discriminatory policy?
Others will defend Walmart because they simply don’t believe that there is any discimination against women in this day and age. These are the same people who declare that there is no longer any use for feminism, because its battles have all been won.
But if this suit has any merits, it would seem that they haven’t all been won. Those who would treat women inequitably are still our enemies.
[Note: It’s interesting that whenever feminists talk in terms of a war against inequality, they are labeled as man-haters. That’s a misconception. Feminists are aware that some women are traitors to their own sex, even if unwittingly. And some men are our greatest champions. I’m sure that there are men and women at Walmart who discriminate against women. So I’m not just talking about men when I mention enemies. I’m talking about anyone who has adopted the “party line,” who goes along with those who think it’s fair to pay and promote men more than women.]