The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments March 29 in the nation’s largest class-action suit, which targets Arizona’s largest employer.
The suit claims that Wal-Mart has a pattern of discriminating against women – refusing or delaying promotions in favor of less-qualified men.
Mary Henderson, a former Walmart employee, eventually became an assistant manager at the store where she worked – but not before seeing men promoted ahead of her.
“Our store manager promoted an unloader over me. I went to him and asked him why, and he said, ‘Well, he’s got a family to support. You don’t.’ That was the accepted way things were done.”
Henderson joined the class-action suit in 2001 as one of the original plaintiffs. The case has grown to include every woman who worked for the company, about 1.5 million people. That’s the problem, according to Wal-Mart. The company argues that it’s impossible to prove that every woman experienced similar discrimination.
The high court is expected to decide by June if it is reasonable for the women to sue as a group or if they should pursue individual cases against the company.
The National Association for Female Executives recently named Wal-Mart one of the top 50 companies for executive women, but Henderson believes that even though things have improved it doesn’t erase a historical pattern of discrimination.
“I don’t think this should ever happen to another woman, period. We don’t want preferential treatment. We want equal treatment,” Henderson said.
Despite the problems, Henderson calls Wal-Mart a great corporation to work for. She left after 13 years on the job – not because of discrimination but because of health issues.
The importance of the case goes far beyond Wal-Mart, according to Arizona ACLU director Alessandra Soler-Meetze.
“The case has very, very broad implications. It deals with workers’ rights. It deals with the ability of workers to go into court and have their day in court, and really to join forces in a class action.”
The ACLU has filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold two lower court rulings that sided with the female workers against Wal-Mart.
Information on the status of the case is online at walmartclass.com.