Has Wal-Mart discriminated?

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The federal appeals court, in a split decision, has ruled 6-5 that a sexual discrimination case against Wal-Mart can move forward as a class action suit. The case began in 2001 when six women claimed Wal-Mart paid women less than men, awarded smaller raises to women and provided fewer opportunities for promotions for women. Later, more than one million women signed on to become claimants in the case which is the largest employment discrimination case in this nation’s history.

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The plaintiffs point out that, although 65-percent of Wal-Mart hourly employees are women, only 33-percent of its managers are women. Obviously, Wal-Mart does not want the case to proceed and has announced it will appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. Additionally, Wal-Mart maintains that the discrimination claims are based on individual decision making, not corporate.

This isn’t the first time Wal-Mart has faced accusations of discrimination. In 2009, Wal-Mart settled a class action suit on that saw them accused of discriminating against African-Americans employed in Wal-Mart’s trucking fleet. When the suit was filed, only 2 to 3-percent of Wal-Mart’s highway drivers were Black; about 15-percent of highway truck drivers across the nation, regardless of employer, are Black. The settlement called for Wal-Mart to pay over $17 million to in damages and improve hiring practices.

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest private sector employer in the country; over 1 million employees work for the big box retailer. If found liable of sexual discrimination, Wal-Mart will suffer a blow to both its reputation and its bottom line. But, the company will also have a chance to make things right. After it settled its racial discrimination case, Wal-Mart instituted a diversity hiring and training program. Similar initiatives could possibly come of this suit.

While the full truth about the discrimination claims have yet to be brought to light, it is a good thing this case will be heard in court. These women, like all Americans, deserve the opportunity to seek justice.

(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of RainbowPUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)

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