AAUW Remembers Betty Dukes, An Everyday Hero

July 14, 2017

A former Walmart employee, an ordained minister, and a gender equity titan, Betty Dukes was an everyday hero. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting her personally but her story inspires me. She is an example of how ordinary people can display extraordinary courage and resolve. Superheroes like Wonder Woman are easy to spot, but Betty’s story teaches us that the next time you pass an employee at a retail juggernaut you might be passing a hero.

In 2001, she was the lead plaintiff in a class action suit filed in the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Walmart alleging that female employees were 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 attempted to address sex discrimination.

On December 6, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether 1.5 million female employees of Walmart, led by Betty Dukes, could pursue job discrimination claims in one suit or whether they had to split up and file against individual stores. It remains the largest employment class-action suit in the nation’s history. The case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 29, 2011. AAUW was with Betty Dukes and other plaintiffs the night before the hearing. Hear her experience in her own words. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 20, 2011, that the class could not move forward, and each woman had to file her claim individually or in smaller, reformulated class action groups.

Betty Dukes stood up for gender equity because she saw injustice on her job. Her unwavering stance took her all the way to the Supreme Court. The ordinary action of fighting for what’s right shaped the narrative of her life and inspired many people.

Because she was not a superhero, and just an everyday hero, she needed support. AAUW is proud to have stood with her through her amazing journey. Our Legal Case Support Program provides financial assistance to many everyday heroes like Betty Dukes.  Our resolve to balance the scales of justice through our Legal Advocacy Fund is steadfast. In addition to providing financial support, AAUW signed an amicus brief, issued press releases, attended the Supreme Court hearing, and coled a rally in support of Betty Dukes and the other women of Walmart. Dukes’ case also led to AAUW advocacy around such legislation as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, which would restore worker’s rights and strengthen federal employment discrimination laws.

Betty Dukes’ story continues to motivate AAUW, and we will continue the fight for gender equity in her honor and for all everyday heroes.


Know Your Rights at Work

Laws exist to protect employees from discrimination and harassment — learn how to make sure those laws are protecting you.

Fight for Fair Pay

Change begins with you — and takes less than two minutes.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes

Learn more about the class action suit filed against Wal-Mart.

Ebonee Avery-Washington By:   |   July 14, 2017

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