Thursday, April 21, 2011

News Flash: Save Money. Pay Women Less.

Save Money. Pay Women Less.
The largest employment discrimination lawsuit in American history is Dukes vs. Wal-Mart. This case is being fought on behalf of 1.5 million current and former Wal-Mart employees over discrimination in pay and promotion. What connects these 1.5 million people? They are all female.
The case began in 1999 when Stephanie Odle was fired from Wal-Mart after complaining of sexual discrimination. This New York Times article explains how women from across America have joined together to fight for their rights: Wal-Mart denies the discrimination, but that is not their main defense. Wal-Mart’s lawyers argue that there is not enough “cohesion” among the women to justify treating them as a single class. The plaintiffs may have differences, but all of them have experienced sexual discrimination at the hands of Wal-Mart, and they are tired of it. Together these inspirational women are trying to prove that if their sex is enough in common for all of them to be paid less than men in the same positions as them, they have enough in common to sue for sexual discrimination. Their fight to stop sexism in the workplace is surely a case for all womankind.
Christine Kwapnoski is one of the main six women suing Wal-Mart. When she told her boss that she wanted a promotion he told her to, “blow the cobwebs off your makeup” and to “doll up” in order to advance. Kwanpnoski joined the other women suing Wal-Mart for practical reasons. Filing a suit against one of the world’s largest corporation would be too costly and stand little-to-no chance of ever being heard.
Sexism in the workplace is nothing new. Since the founding of America (and it seems the world) discrimination against women has perpetuated. Wal-Mart’s sexual discrimination is also common. Many large corporations exploit women, “Nike, the largest athletic footwear in the world, posted a record $298 million profit for 1993” uses women globally to make a profit (Enloe 44). Wal-Mart and Nike use similar techniques in how they treat women. Nike might exploit women more globally compared to Wal-Mart, who in this case, exploit women in the U.S.; the connection is women being exploited. Women are vulnerable to sexual discrimination in the workplace because jobs are so competitive, thus women are afraid if they complain they might get fired.
Society today says that women are separate but equal from men. Sexism is supposed to be dead, but as demonstrated in Wal-Mart’s case this is incorrect. In Leading the Way, author Anuradha Shyam writes about the sexism that South Asian women face. She is speaking of South Asian women when she says, “It is expected that we behave with deference and modesty at home, but it is imperative that we demonstrate assertiveness and decisiveness in the corporate world” but this statement can be applied to most women living in America (179). The fact that women have consistently earned less to a man’s dollar in America proves sexism is not gone, but Wal-Mart claims to be the exception.
Wal-Mart might be arguing that it does not discriminate, but the evidence speaks for itself. The sheer overwhelming number of women claiming to have been discriminated against cannot be a coincidence. This picture shows the difference between men and women’s income:

The evidence is clear, but the judges' decision may not be. To side with the plaintiffs the Supreme Court would need to go against the largest private employer in America. In 2009, the Court denied a big business case against a woman, so until early summer (when the decision is most likely to come out) everyone will have to wait to see the decision. The real issue is, will the highest court in America decide if being female is enough to treat them as a single class? Would their decision be different if the defendants were all male? What began as a grievance over pay and promotion among a handful of women at Wal-Mart has turned into the largest sex discrimination lawsuit in America. No matter the ending, the six women who have filed this lawsuit have proved what women can accomplish when they come together.

Works Cited
Enloe, Cynthia H. The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire/Berkley: University of California Press, 2004. Print

“Wal-Mart vs. Women.” Editorial. The New York Times 7 April 2011, n&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=print.

Trigg, Mary K., ed. Leading the Way: young women’s activism for social change. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010. Print.


  1. I'm always interested in hearing about Walmart and I really enjoyed reading this. After reading your newsflash, I began to wonder about the relationship between corporations and the state's responsibility to not only give, but to protect liberties. It seems like we not only need the "highest court in America," like you said, to separate church and state, but to start separating corporations and the state as it is really clouding our judgment when the answer is really clear, like you also said above. I'm sure that those numbers you posted up aren't just applicable to Walmart, even though they are specific to Walmart. With Walmart creating competition in the race to get to the top (in terms of acquiring wealth by exploiting workers on the side) other corporations are pressured to follow suit in order to even stay in the game. The women are just being trampled over in this race where the goal is materialistic.

    I can't wait to see what the court rules. I hope they feel the pressure to do something soon because according to Forbes and other sources, there are 5,000 cases filed against Walmart annually. How many more do we need to file until their cry for equality is heard?

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  2. Molly, I really liked your newsflash and thought that you found a very interesting issue. I, like it seems Samantha may have, have heard in the past about Walmart being unfair to it's employees and it seems that this is not limited to lower class employees but also women employees are discriminated against. The salary differentials for some of those positions are huge and the fact that Walmart is trying to say that being a woman is not a defining enough feature to file a joint law suit is appalling and not easily understood. The better question I think is how could they not see women as a defined group and a defined group that have been seeing less than equal treatment. I hope these women finally receive fair treatment and that the goals of the Lilly Ledbetter bill are finally realized.