In 2001, six female Wal-Mart employees filed a lawsuit claiming that they had been discriminated against because of their sex where wages and promotions were concerned. Today that case has yet to make it to trial, but it is now being considered by the Supreme Court and has taken on the form of a class-action lawsuit, with plaintiffs numbering in the millions and Wal-Mart’s possible damages estimated to be in the billions. If it goes to trial it would be the largest employment discrimination class-action suit in US history.

Key among the charges are the following:

1. Unequal pay for equal work (i.e. a man and a woman just hired are offered different starting wages, most often with the man receiving higher pay)

2. Sexist remarks in the workplace

3. Insurmountable obstacles to promotion (i.e. if the majority of people that get promoted are male, and people are most likely to give preference to people like themselves, then Wal-Mart has allegedly set up a system in which women are held back)

Commenters, bloggers, and news organizations seem to think that the presence of three women justices on the bench (for the first time in history) will offer this case some kind of extra boost, as though their femininity will somehow change the law to finally give these women a boost. I would think less of them if this was the case. These women justices seem to have the same questions as their male counterparts, and these questions are the main roadblocks to the case moving forward.

1. Are all of the plaintiffs really similar enough in situation to warrant this being a class action lawsuit? (The suit would stand for any woman who worked for Wal-Mart since December of 1998.)

2. How can we hold the corporate offices of Wal-Mart accountable for something that is the responsibility of local managers? (Wal-Mart claims that it gives training courses that encourage diversity and that they cannot be over the shoulders of all local managers that might be acting in a discriminatory fashion. The best they can do, they say, is train appropriately and hope that people will do the right thing and follow the training.)

The liberal blog-o-sphere is worried that if this case is thrown out that it will be a strong statement about the infallibility of corporate America (as opposed to the state of equal pay in this country) in that they are nearly untouchable thanks to the moves made by the federal government over the past 10-20 years (and some of my political science friends might even say it stretches further back than that). Those on the side of Wal-Mart say they are afraid that if this case goes to trial it would open the floodgates for other lawsuits this size to be tried, which would then clog up the system. To this I say: Why aren’t we encouraging standing up against oppression/discrimination? For the 1 frivolous lawsuit that might be brought it is worth it if 3 legitimate lawsuits are brought before the courts and tried fairly. But that is beside the point.

In my own job the only way I would know if I was being paid unequally would be to ask, which in this country is generally taboo. Admittedly if someone else that worked for my company asked me how much I made I would be hesitant to reveal the figure. The woman who originally brought this lawsuit only thought to sue because she heard male coworkers talking about their wages and noticed that there was a huge difference based on what they did (i.e. the same thing that she did). What we earn is a very private thing, and if I tell what I make the bright side is that the worker that is looking for equality will get pay equal to mine. The danger is that the company may not be able to afford to pay the other worker more, and so in the next year as a result of misconduct on the company’s part, my pay may be lowered to match (although this is unlikely).

My profession is male dominated, and I honestly would not be surprised to find that newly hired males might be offered more than I was to do the same job. Would I sue over it? Probably not because after 3 years my job becomes about enrollment as opposed to my experience and degrees so I have to earn my keep as opposed to just showing up and knowing my stuff. I can only assume that if my job performance outshines my male counterparts in other areas of the country I would be paid accordingly, but how would I even ask?

I hope that there is enough information to cause this case to go forward to trial. I applaud these women for being gutsy enough to demand that they be paid equally as well as to demand that they not be called sexy hos at work (that last part may not be true, but the men were calling the women interesting things like Janey Q’s and telling them to “gussy up”). While I would say that women shouldn’t be promoted simply to even out the management structure, if evidence shows that they were equally qualified and passed over in favor of the equally qualified male, then I say let’s see some more women in upper management at Wal-Mart. I hope that this case sets some kind of progressive precedent, because the regressive kind could be devastating for the American workforce in an age that doesn’t look all to friendly towards it to begin with.

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