Supreme Court Prepares to Hear Landmark Sex Discrimination CaseMarch 01, 2011
Last week, plaintiffs in the Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores case filed their brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, alleging that female employees of Wal-Mart are denied advancement and training opportunities, paid less than men for the same or comparable work, steered to lower-wage departments, subjected to a sexually hostile work environment, and retaliated against when they attempt to address sex discrimination. Thanks to the generosity of our members, AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund provided case support to the plaintiffs. AAUW has also signed onto an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court will hear this case on March 29, 2011.
The plaintiffs claim that Wal-Mart discriminates against women employees at its stores across the country, and their case has been certified for class-action status. They allege that Wal-Mart does not notify employees of its pay and promotion policies; instead, managers use secretive and subjective policies that result in few women in management positions. Additionally, they argue that Wal-Mart’s corporate culture is rife with demeaning gender stereotypes: Executives refer to women employees as “Janie Qs,” hold business meetings at Hooters restaurants, and attribute the absence of women in top positions to men being more aggressive in seeking advancement.
Depending on which estimates you look at, there could be between 500,000 and 1 million women represented in the lawsuit, making it the largest class-action suit in history. Two federal courts have approved the plaintiffs’ request for class-action status, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear Wal-Mart’s appeal of those decisions. The court will not decide the merits of the case. Rather, it will consider whether to uphold the lower courts’ rulings on whether the case should be granted class-action status.
How the Supreme Court decides this case will set a significant precedent for future cases, determining which lawsuits can and cannot be filed on behalf of workers and under what circumstances employees would be allowed to band together to fight discrimination. AAUW strongly believes that the court should uphold the application of the established civil rules of procedures for class-action pay discrimination and Title VII claims. In doing so, it would protect Americans’ right to bring appropriate and certified class-action suits against workplace discrimination. Such cases not only ensure that all affected workers can right the wrongs against them, but also can act as a deterrent to other companies regarding the lack of tolerance for discrimination in the workplace.