A class action discrimination case brought by female employees of Wal Mart could cost the company billions and permanently change the way discrimination lawsuits are handled in this country. This is "the biggest litigation thread that the company has ever faced," and the company's fighting it tooth and nail, and that obnoxious little bouncing smiley face that keeps rolling back prices on those creepy TV ads is decidedly frowny about the whole thing.
According to the suit, Wal Mart systematically discriminated against women at an institutional level for years, passing them up for promotions, neglecting to inform them of job openings, paying them less than men, and inhibiting their advancement.
The suit was first filed in 2001, and since then, the company has changed the way that it handles promoting from within. All positions are now posted electronically, and management positions are no longer held overwhelmingly by men (in 2001, all of 14% of store managers at Wal Mart were women, despite the fact that 80 percent of lower-paying hourly jobs at stores were held by women). Plaintiffs in the suit number anywhere from 500,000 to 1.6 million female employees.
Two of the women named in the suit continue to get up and work at the company that they say is screwing them every day. One of them is the assistant manager of the produce section at a store in California; the other is a greeter in another California store. The two say that it's difficult for them, but necessary. Working at Wal Mart, after all, is their livelihood.
Not all women who work for the company say that their experience has been negative. Gisel Ruiz, Wal Mart's Executive Vice President For People (what Wal Mart calls its HR department), for example-
Ruiz paints a very different picture of the opportunities offered women at Wal-Mart. She joined the company straight from college in 1992. "In less than four years, I went from an assistant manager trainee to running my own store," she said. "I'm one of thousands of women who have had a positive experience at Wal-Mart."
As everyone who has ever read any comment thread on the internet knows, the plural of "anecdote" is "data." "This was my experience, which is contrary to what science/sociology/statistics say is the common experience of others like me, ergo, science/sociology/statistics is/are wrong." I can't be racist! I have a black friend! Wal Mart can't possible be discriminating at an institutional level! I know a lady Wal Mart did not discriminate against!
Institutional sexism can seem remote and even unbelievable until you face it yourself, and standing up to what you perceive to be a gender-based slight takes an unbelievable amount of courage. I've been employed in the financial sector for the past 5 years and, during that time, have seen female peers at similar institutions passed over for promotions, hustled into roles that lead to dead ends, and straight up forgotten about by their employers. Those who have faced discrimination have chosen to bow out of the industry quietly or to accept their assigned roles passively. I've witnessed the occasional bridge-burning storm out, but those are few and far between, and much more often performed by men who perceive to be slighted. That these women at Wal Mart who are making an average of $13,000 per year are finding the strength to stand up to their behemoth employer is more than admirable.
If the Supreme Court decides in their favor, it will be a victory for female employees of Wal Mart, but for workers everywhere. In light of the fuckery happening in Wisconsin, the pro-labor movement could use some good news.