High Court Judge Weighs California Discrimination Suit Against Walmart

The merits of a second employment discrimination class action suit against box store giant Walmart are being weighed by a federal judge in California. women.jpg

Riverside Employment Attorney Houman Fakhimi understands that U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer has expressed some “serious” doubts about whether the case may move forward, following the federal Supreme Court’s dismissal of a nearly identical suit last year.

However, those arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs – some 45,000 female employees of Walmart – say that there is new evidence that managers and supervisors systematically based promotion and pay scales on clear gender bias.

When the case was originally taken before the state’s supreme court last year, justices dismissed it after determining the plaintiffs were unable to establish that there was any decision by supervisors or a company policy that would have resulted in women receiving less pay or fewer promotions.

So in essence, the court never said discrimination didn’t occur. What it did say was that such decisions were made by store managers at hundreds of Walmart locations – without any direct guidance from the corporation (and thus that class-action status was not merited). Breyer asked the plaintiff counsel what was different in the current case.

The reply was that there is evidence that some of those in charge, including the 20 district managers and four regional managers in California, were biased against women. It was these individuals, the attorney said, who were responsible for approving promotions and pay.

So what does that evidence look like?

One piece involves statements made by the company’s former chief executive to district managers back in 2004. According to court records, the executive told his team that successful leaders are best when they have a single focus to see a job through to completion. Women, the executive said, were better at processing information, while men were better with focus.

Statements like this, the plaintiffs contend, were clearly behind the very wide disparity in terms of promotions and pay for female Walmart employees in California. And while on the surface the company touted equality, internally, the plaintiffs say, there was a clear policy of discrimination.

Walmart attorneys also aren’t denying that there may have been some level of discrimination. But they say that a class action suit is unwarranted because promotion and pay decisions were at the discretion of individual managers – not the top executives. In countering the statement made by the former chief executive, Walmart’s attorney characterized it as a “stray remark. ”

It’s worth noting that more than 2,000 female workers have filed claims against the company with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The first suit filed with regard to this issue was brought forth in 2001 by six women. As an approved Class Action, it was granted class status to more than 1.5 million women who had worked at the chain since late 1998.

The federal Supreme Court in that case said that neither the obvious disparity in pay (both in California and across the country) nor the sexist remarks made by managers were enough to prove that the women were discriminated against in any uniform policy standard.

Judge Breyer, whose brother is a Supreme Court Justice, declined to say when he would rule on Walmart’s motion to dismiss.

If you need to speak to an employment attorney in Riverside about an issue of discrimination, sexual harassment, wage dispute, or a violation of worker’s rights, contact the Employment Law Team for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights. Call (877) 529-4545. Serving Ontario, Riverside and the entire Los Angeles area.

Additional Resources:
Judge ‘concerned’ about reviving Walmart suit, By Bob Egelko, The San Francisco Chronicle

More Blog Entries:
Wage Theft in Riverside Requires Legal Muscle, June 11, 2012, Riverside Employment Discrimination Lawyer Blog