business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times reports this morning that Walmart has been hit with a new gender bias lawsuit by women claiming that the retailer has discriminated against them. The new suit is, in fact, a narrower version of a class action suit tossed out four months ago by the US Supreme Court, which said, as the Times writes, that the 1.5 million women involved “had failed to establish that the legal and factual issues involving all those women had enough in common to be examined as a single class.”

The new suit is specific to Walmart’s California stores, and the lawyers filing the suit said that it was just the first of an “armada” of lawsuits that would be filed against the retailer over the next six months, challenging the company’s employment practices in other regions of the country.

“The lawsuit filed Thursday in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California,” the Times reports, “contends that Wal-Mart’s discriminatory practices on pay and job promotion affected more than 90,000 women currently or formerly employed at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in four regions in California and neighboring states.”

It may be a smaller class action, but not small enough for Walmart.

“As we have said all along, these claims are unsuitable for class treatment because the situations of each individual are so different, and because the claims of these five plaintiffs are not representative of the thousands of women who work at Wal-Mart,” Greg Rossiter, a company spokesman, told the Times via e-mail.

One of the things that the new lawsuit alleges is that former Walmart senior executive Tom Coughlin once said that “women tend to be better at information processing,” while “men are better at focus single objective,” and that the latter was key to Walmart’s ongoing success.

The original lawsuit - filed against Walmart by a single woman alleging gender discrimination - dates back to 1999.
KC's View:
Whether it was formal or informal, institutional or cultural, it is not hard for me to believe that there was some sort of gender discrimination going on at Walmart at some point in time. I’m willing to also accept the notion that the company recognizes the problem and is trying to fix it. (Though some habits die hard, especially in some places.)

That said, it is not hard to see where this is going. Walmart is going to fight every class action suit for as long as it can, whittling away until either everybody trying to sue is dead, or just worn out from the effort. And only the lawyers will get rich.