business news in context, analysis with attitude

The US Supreme Court may have ruled in Walmart’s favor this week by saying that a gender discrimination class action suit - filed on behalf of some 1.5. million current and past female employees of the company - could not proceed because the cases were too dissimilar to be linked, and because cultural discrimination is not the same as official discrimination. But that doesn’t mean the issue of gender discrimination has been put to rest

For one thing, a gender discrimination lawsuit against Costco, on hold for three years while the Walmart case worked its way through the courts, has been revived.

And, at the national level, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has been reintroduced in the US Congress -- 88 years after it was first introduced - with proponents saying that it is needed more than ever to explicitly ban gender discrimination.

The Seattle Times reports that “Brad Seligman, the lead lawyer for the women in both the Wal-Mart and Costco cases, said he has hope for the lawsuit against Costco.

“For one thing, it's smaller, involving only 700 or 800 women. That includes current and former female employees who were denied promotions to general manager or assistant manager since 2002.

“Another big difference, he said, is Wal-Mart has a decentralized system for making decisions about pay and promotions ... At Costco, decisions about general and assistant managers are made at its Issaquah headquarters, he said.” Therefore, it may be easier to gold Costco’s management - including CEO Jim Sinegal, who signs off on every general manager promotion - accountable. Lawyers in the Costco case are hoping that they can draw a distinction from the Walmart situation, arguing that at Costco the discrimination was de facto official.

Costco’s lawyers, not surprisingly, disagree, and plan to argue that the same dissimilarities exist in their case as in the Walmart situation, and that a class action simply should not be certified.

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post reports that Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), who reintroduced the bill with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), said in a statement: “The Equal Rights Amendment is still needed because the only way for women to achieve permanent equality in the U.S. is to write it into the constitution ... Making women’s equality a constitutional right—after Congress passes and 38 states ratify the ERA—would place the United States on record, albeit more than 200 years late, that women are fully equal in the eyes of the law ... “The Wal-Mart case decided by the Supreme Court this week is a classic example of how far attitudes must still come. The facts of the case support the view that over a million women were systematically denied equal pay by the world’s largest employer.”

Menendez called it “a disgrace that American women are still not constitutionally guaranteed equal rights under the law."

According to the Huffington Post story, “First introduced in 1923, the ERA is considered one of the pioneer acts of the women's rights movement in the United States, even though it was never ratified. Today, the ERA currently has 160 co-sponsors including Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), Chair of the Congressional Women's Caucus, reports Ms. magazine. According to The Hill, it has been reintroduced every year since it fell three votes short of ratification in 1982.”
KC's View:
I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t comment with any degree of authority about the Costco case. Except that discrimination of any kind is wrong, and I hope that justice is served.

But I do have a thought about the ERA.

First of all, I thought that we all are constitutionally guaranteed equal rights under the law. At least, that was my impression.

That said, I have a daughter. There’s pretty good evidence out there that whether implicitly or explicitly, at some point in her career she may be taken advantage of, or discriminated against, simply because she is a woman.

If it takes the ERA to make sure that this doesn’t happen to her and all her sisters, I’m okay with it.

Some will say it is unnecessary and redundant. I’d guess I’d argue that since there continues to be discrimination - some of it cultural, some of it official - maybe it is necessary. And things sometimes have to be redundant because there are guys out there who simply don’t get it, who need to have this stuff drilled into their thick skulls.

I vote with - and for - my daughter.