US grocery group Walmart will stand in front of the US Supreme Court today to face accusations of sex discrimination against it, in what is being hailed the largest employment class action in history.
A group of six women, who either have worked for the Asda owner or are currently employed by the business, claim under the 1964 Civil Rights Act that they and Walmart’s other female staff have been paid less and missed out on promotions due to their gender.
Betty Dukes, a 60-year-old former Greeter at one of the company’s stores in California, has become the figurehead for the six women involved in the case, who hope their legal team can prove there has been a pattern of discrimination at Walmart.
Highlighting the scale of the case, a statement on the US Supreme Court’s website says: “This nationwide class includes every woman employed for any period of time over the past decade, in any of Walmart’s approximately 3,400 separately managed stores, 41 regions, and 400 districts, and who held positions in any of approximately 53 departments and 170 different job classifications.”
Walmart has continued to contest the claims since they were first filed in 2000, but it is the wider implications for US business that makes this case stand out.
Today’s proceedings will dictate whether the case can go forward as a class-action lawsuit, and a final ruling is expected later this summer. This decision will determine whether the lawsuit proceeds to trial, potentially opening the way for similar cases to go to court in the future.
Commenting last year, Executive Vice President of the National Chamber Litigation Center, the US Chamber of Commerce’s public policy law firm, said: “This is the most important class action case facing the court in over a decade.”
Reflecting on last April’s Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals 6-5 vote in favour of certifying the gender discrimination claim, he added: “The ninth circuit radically lowered the standards for certifying blockbuster class actions.
“Unless the court steps in to undo the mess created by the ninth circuit, the West Coast will become a haven for bet-the-business class actions.”
In a statement last spring, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Walmart Jeff Gearhart remarked: “Walmart is an excellent place for women to work and fosters female leadership among our associates and in the larger business world.”