WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Walmart is being sued by women who allege they are not given the same chance at promotion as males in stores Walmart's southeastern stores.

The complaint alleges each plaintiff has been a victim of discriminatory policies and practices and specifies “Wal-Mart management has long known about gender disparities in promotion in each of the regions and has failed to take any remedial action.” Also, the complaint notes, “Wal-Mart’s managers rely on discriminatory stereotypes and biased views about women in making pay and promotion decisions within each region.”

Plaintiffs Kathleen Forbes, Lisa O’Brien, Lou Ann Hawes, Linda Ray, Judith Danneman, Bridgette Bramley and Edna Remington filed suit Nov. 6 against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The suit alleges Title VII discrimination in stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia.  

Specific allegations in the complaint are Walmart has engaged in gender discrimination by (1) denying female employees equal opportunities for promotion to certain management and management-track positions, (2) denying female employees equal pay for hourly retail store positions, and (3) denying female employees equal pay for certain salaried management positions. 

This class action lawsuit arises out of the case of Betty Dukes v. Walmart, which was filed in 2001. In 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that class certification and imposed new guidelines for filing. According to the complaint filed in this case, “Plaintiffs bring this action in accordance with those new guidelines. Rather than challenging Wal-Mart’s discriminatory practices on a national level, this action alleges claims on behalf of three regional classes of present and former female Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club retail store employees. The members of each class were subjected to gender discrimination as a result of the specific policies and practices in place in their particular region.”

Ariane Hegewisch, program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women's Policy Research, told the Florida Record, “Walmart has a policy of systematically excluding women from access to management jobs. Basically, [the women] were stuck in non-managerial jobs and one of the problems was that if you wanted to be promoted you had to do certain Walmart management courses. As a woman, you weren’t admitted to those courses.You could never move up.”

Hegewisch described how stores carry out gender discrimination: 

“Within the retail sector and the supermarket sector, the types of practice that seem to come up in lawsuits are, for example, if you are a woman you are given the less-successful retail stores, and then you cannot make a lot of profit. Because you don’t make a lot of profit, you can never get promoted to a higher-level position.” 

Hegewisch also notes,  “Florida has a basically low gender wage gap. Both women and men don’t earn well because the median earnings for men are also pretty low. The jobs are a lot of tourism, lower-level sector service jobs. The kind of opportunities for higher-level professional work are not that great compared to some other states.”  

The plaintiffs in this suit are represented by attorneys Cathleen Scott and Lindsey Wagner of Scott Wagner and Associates PA, and by Joseph M. Sellers, Christine E. Webber, Diana L. Martin, and Leslie M. Kroeger of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.

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