Fighting for Women's Equality

Court Expands Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Against Wal-Mart Stores

September 10, 2002 | by

San Francisco – September 12, 2002 – Today in San Francisco, a federal court expanded the class action sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores, allowing five women who worked in California Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores to join the case as named plaintiffs.Federal Judge Martin Jenkins ruled that the five women will join the two existing named plaintiffs, Betty Dukes and Patricia Surgeson, in representing the nationwide sex discrimination case against America’s largest corporation (Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, United States District Court, No. C 01-2252 MJJ). Today’s Court ruling also allows for claims going back to December 1998, thus potentially adding thousands of more current and former Wal-Mart female employees to the class. The class action lawsuit, filed June 2001, charges Wal-Mart with systematically discriminating against its female employees in promotions, compensation, and training in its over 3300 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club retail stores nationwide. Although women comprise more than 70% of Wal-Mart’s sales workforce nationwide, less than one-third of store management overall at Wal-Mart is female—a percentage lower than the number of female management employed by Wal-Mart’s major competitors in 1975.In December 2001, Judge Jenkins rejected Wal-Mart’s earlier effort to transfer the case to the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas or to dismiss it entirely. The judge described the request as “too harsh” and “not in the interests of justice.” He ruled that the California plaintiffs could represent the nationwide class in this forum. The five new California plaintiffs are: Edith Arana, a resident of Los Angeles County, who was employed by Wal-Mart from 1995 until October 2001; Christine Kwapnoski, a resident of Concord who has been an employee of Wal-Mart’s subsidiary, Sam’s Club, since 1986; Cleo Page, an Oklahoma woman who worked at a Wal-Mart in Livermore; Deborah Gunter, a resident of Riverside County who worked at three different Wal-Mart stores in California; and Karen Williamson of Butte County who worked at the Wal-Mart store in Pleasanton. “This is a tremendous victory and one which will allow thousands more women to seek justice for the workplace discrimination that they have experienced at Wal-Mart. It is truly unacceptable for the top ranked Fortune 500 company to discriminate against its female workers in this way,” Brad Seligman, lead attorney for the women, said today. The women are represented by The Impact Fund (Berkeley), Equal Rights Advocates (San Francisco), Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll (Washington D.C.), Davis, Cowell & Bowe (San Francisco), and Tinkler & Bennett (Santa Fe, New Mexico). Attachment: Summaries of new plaintiffs claims Christine Kwapnoski, an employee of Sam’s Club since 1986, was repeatedly denied promotions to higher-level positions. Even though she expressed her desire to advance to higher-level positions on numerous occasions, Wal-Mart’s practice of not posting job announcements resulted in denying Ms. Kwapnoski the opportunity to compete for the promotions. In fact, she was required to train several of the less qualified men who got the promotions in order for them to assume responsibilities as her boss.  After 16 years of service to Wal-Mart, Ms. Kwapnoski’s request for a managerial position was approved only after this lawsuit was filed, but she continues to be denied the opportunities given men in the store. Cleo Page, an African-American woman who worked at a Wal-Mart in Livermore, suffered discrimination in terms of promotions and compensation due to her gender and race. On two occasions, she applied for a Support Manager position and was denied despite her qualifications. Ms. Page was also discouraged from applying for the position of Department Manager of Sporting Goods when her store manager said she wanted a male in that position because customers felt more comfortable buying sporting goods from a man. Ms. Page later learned that the male Department Manager in Sporting Goods earned approximately $4 an hour more than she earned, despite the fact that she had more seniority than he had. One of the new plaintiffs, Edith Arana, was an employee of the Duarte, California store for six years. She experienced sex discrimination and retaliation. Ms. Arana, who holds significant retail experience, repeatedly expressed interest in applying for the Assistant Manager Training Program. Even though her supervisor promised he would recommend her for the training program, he never did. On two occasions, Ms. Arana applied for the position of Paper Goods and Chemicals Department Manager. Although it is Wal-Mart’s policy to interview every applicant, she was not interviewed and a man was selected both times to fill the position. After six years of observing the store manager’s refusal to interview women who applied for department manager positions in departments considered “men’s departments” such as the Paper Goods and Chemicals Department, Ms. Arana complained about the discriminatory practices via Wal-Mart’s complaint hotline. After complaining about the Store Manager’s discriminatory treatment, she was retaliated against and transferred to a less desirable position. Deborah Gunter, another new plaintiff, had 30 years of retail experience before she began working for Wal-Mart. She worked at three different stores in California: in Riverside, Perris, and Lake Elsinore. Ms. Gunter was discriminated against in several promotions that she applied for, and was sexually harassed. While employed at the Riverside store, Ms. Gunter applied several times for the Department Manager of Pets but was denied. Twice, Wal-Mart selected a male with less experience. While employed in the Perris store, Ms. Gunter sought promotion to Support Manager of the Tire Lube Express department. She was not selected. Instead, Wal-Mart selected two male employees whom Ms. Gunter had trained. While employed at the Lake Elsinore store, once again, Ms. Gunter trained a male employee who was then promoted to Support Manager of the Tire Lube Express. Ms. Gunter was terminated after she called Wal-Mart’s district office to complain about her treatment. Karen Williamson began her employment at Wal-Mart in 1995 when she helped open the Pleasanton store. Throughout her employment, she expressed interest in being promoted to Department Manager but was never promoted despite her qualifications. Ms. Williamson often trained new department managers. Ms. Williamson did not have the opportunity to apply for some positions because contrary to Wal-Mart policies, these positions were not always posted. All of the women involved in this case hope that Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores will result in Wal-Mart changing their practices and becoming a place of employment where female employees are treated fairly and equally.

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