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In what could wind up costing the retail giant billions, it’s ironic that the brouhaha began over a penny.
According to the huffingtonpost.com May 1, 2010 article, ''Betty Dukes, Wal-Mart Greeter, Leads Class Action Suit'', in the late 1990s, Dukes asked a co-worker to open a cash register with a one-cent transaction - something she claims was commonplace among associates - in order for her to make change so she could buy something on her break. When Dukes was demoted for misconduct, she complained to a manager that the punishment was overly severe, and that she felt she’d been discriminated against since she’d begun working for the retailer in 1994. In part, she also felt the punishment had been motivated by race, since she is black and the managers were white. Dukes sought legal counsel when her complaints went unheeded.
Wal-Mart stands accused of paying women less, as well as giving them fewer promotions. What the justices must decide is, can over a million female employees band together in support of these allegations?
According to the March 30th ebn.benefitnews.com article, ''Wal-Mart gets sympathetic court bias case hearing'', Justice Anthony Kennedy was quoted as saying: "I'm just not sure what the unlawful policy is." Justice Antonin Scalia was quoted as saying ''he felt "whipsawed" by the plaintiffs' argument and that ''they had not made clear whether it was Wal-Mart's corporate culture or local store managers who were allegedly at fault. ''Which is it?" he asked.'' He also ''questioned if it would be fair to the company, the world's biggest retailer, for the case to proceed,'' posing the question, ''Is this really due process?''
The decision the justices come to will have far reaching effects, not only for those involved in the case, but for women’s rights in the workplace, on future class action lawsuits in the workplace and elsewhere, and the potential vulnerability of large corporations to similar allegations.
According to the same ebn.benefitnews.com article, Wal-Mart's attorney, Theodore Boutrous, was of the opinion that ''female employees in different jobs and in different stores do not have enough in common to be in a single class-action lawsuit.'' He was also quoted as saying to the justices: "It's not fair to anyone to put this all into one big class.''
Gisel Ruiz, a Wal-Mart executive vice president, was quoted as saying in the same article: ''We continue to have strong anti-discrimination policies in place, a strong record of advancement of women and we are always looking to be better.''
Betty Dukes was quoted as saying: "Wal-Mart is trying their level best to keep us out of court so the facts will not be presented to the public at large or before a sitting jury.''
Joseph Sellers, an attorney for the women, feels the class-action should be allowed to proceed, calling it ''an extraordinary case.''
Described as a cheerful, humble woman who took the job at Wal-Mart determined to work her way up and make a better life for herself, Dukes reportedly relies on her faith, and considers herself blessed. She’s been compared to Rosa Parks, become a role model for women everywhere, and might well be dubbed ''The Greeter Who Roared.''
Regardless of whether the Supreme Court decides whether the lawsuit can go to trial as a class action lawsuit, the individual women can still sue Wal-Mart. However, the major advantage of the class action, obviously, is strength in numbers.