Last week a San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals certified the largest class-action employment lawsuit in U.S. history. The dispute was first filed in 2001 by Betty Dukes, a store greeter from California, along with five co-workers. The plaintiffs argue that women are paid less and given fewer promotions than their male co-workers, and the lawsuit states that the company’s “strong, centralized structure fosters or facilitates gender stereotyping and discrimination”.
The issue decided at the Circuit Court this week was whether more than a million current and former Walmart employees can band together in their claim of discrimination. The Court, though divided, ruled that they can.
The implications of this case is huge, not only for Walmart, but for all companies that uphold discriminatory practices against women. If, in fact, Walmart loses the lawsuit and must pay back wages to over a million women, they will certainly suffer financially. This case could cost Walmart billions of dollars. Walmart will more than likely also suffer additional penalties at the check- out counter, since most of the consumers are women. At a time when they are working on polishing up their public image, this is not good news for Walmart.
We don’t know the outcome of this case and it will probably take years to reach some kind of conclusion. The important message for all of us is that one woman, Betty Dukes, spoke up! One woman decided enough was enough and blew the whistle. Betty Dukes decided to take on the giant megastore chain, and in doing so, will potentially make a difference for all working women who still make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes.
As women, we do not realize the power that we have, not only as employees, but consumers. We accept the status quo. In this case, one brave woman was willing to stand up and take action and bring together a group of like minded colleagues to join the fight. When women band together and work together for a common goal, it is such a powerful force that it can change history. We’ve seen it before in history and now a new story is about to emerge.