Nearly 100 current and former workers filed suit against the store, alleging unequal pay and lack of opportunity
Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is once again facing a raft of sexual discrimination lawsuits – eight years after the supreme court blocked the company from facing the largest gender discrimination case ever brought against an employer.
Nearly 100 workers filed gender discrimination lawsuits against Walmart on 1 February, alleging denial of equal pay for retail store and certain salaried management positions. The plaintiffs include current Walmart employees and others who left the company from the early to late 2000s.
Francine Radtka worked as a deli manager at Walmart in Manatee County, Florida from 1995 to 2000. She expressed concerns to her manager when she found out the other department managers, all men, were being paid much more than she was, and ultimately quit after she was forced to take on the duties of the bakery manager for several months without any additional compensation.
“I went from working 50 hours a week to 80 to 90 hours a week. I asked for a raise because I was working a whole other department and the manager told me no,” Radtka said. “The way Walmart works, you work a salary, so if you work 80 hours or 50 hours, you get the same amount of money.”
Jenny Hicks worked at a Walmart in the same county from 1997 to 2000. “I trained a lot of managers, and I missed out on a lot of raises,” said Hicks. “I trained men who made more than me, told I couldn’t get a raise and told I couldn’t get promoted yet I was training them for the job I wanted to do.”
Hicks left Walmart due to the lack of upward mobility made available to her that was offered to male colleagues. She initially started working at Walmart in hopes to climb up to management and build a secure career to raise her family.
Radtka and Hicks are among the women now suing Walmart.
The lawsuits come in the wake of the 2011 US supreme court ruling in the Walmart Stores v Dukes case. Originally filed in 2001, the case received class certification in 2004 to represent 1.5 million current and former female Walmart employees, the largest employment class-action lawsuit in US history. The supreme court ruling did not make a decision on the merit of the claims made in the lawsuit, but rather it ruled the lawsuit was too large to constitute a class action lawsuit. The decision has prompted the plaintiffs from that case to file individual, regional lawsuits against Walmart.
“There was a culture at Walmart that existed way before 1999 and continued on, and still continues on, and the circumstance that women have been selected for various positions with no opportunity for growth, and no opportunity for promotion,” said Lindsey Wagner, a Florida based attorney representing the plaintiffs in both lawsuits. She said new hires who are women are often placed in cashier roles or associates, while men are placed in departments such as electronics or sporting goods where fast-track promotion opportunities are available.
Wagner noted there are several more lawsuits likely to be filed over the next several months. “These women are just a snapshot of the women intent to file these claims around the country,” she said. “There are a multitude of lawyers working together to help these women achieve justice.”
Walmart recently changed their absence policy in response to pressure from lawsuits and advocacy groups alleging pregnant Walmart workers faced discrimination from the company. In July 2018, the national legal advocacy group A Better Balance filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Walmart workers who were terminated due to pregnancy-related absences, challenging that the company policy was violating New York state pregnancy accommodation law.
“Under the new policy, pregnancy-related absences will be authorized for pregnant workers, meaning workers won’t accrue points for these absences that could lead to termination” said Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance. “The lawsuit is still going on, we are in discovery.”
In addition to lawsuits, Walmart workers have pushed for the company to reveal the extent of pay gaps between men and women workers. In 2015, Cyndi Murray, a founding member of the non-profit worker advocacy group, Our Walmart, introduced a shareholder resolution to require Walmart to disclose any disparities in pay between male and female employees.
“As of now, they still have not come forward with that,” said Murray, who has worked at a Laurel, Maryland, Walmart store for 19 years. “You see higher positions given to men in our company and if the women can do the job, I see no reason she should take home less pay or be chastised for having children. It’s still happening today.”
A Walmart spokesperson said in an email to the Guardian: “Walmart has had a strong policy against discrimination in place for many years and we continue to be a great place for women to work and advance. The allegations from these plaintiffs are not representative of the positive experiences that millions of women have had working at Walmart. We’ve said all along that if someone believes they have been treated unfairly, they deserve to have their timely, individual claims heard in court. We plan to defend the company against these claims.”