NWLC Files Brief in Supreme Court, Supporting Women of Wal-Mart

For Immediate Release

National Women's Law Center
Contact: 

Andrea Maruniak or Maria Patrick, 202-588-5180

NWLC Files Brief in Supreme Court, Supporting Women of Wal-Mart

WASHINGTON - Today the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case WAL-MART STORES, INC. v. BETTY DUKES, et al. together with the American Civil Liberties Union and 32 other organizations in support of a class of current and former women employees of Wal-Mart. A group of women employees initially filed this lawsuit ten years ago, claiming the company paid them lower wages and gave them fewer promotions than men—even when they had higher performance ratings and more seniority than their male counterparts. 

“The case before the Supreme Court raises a critical question about whether employees will continue to have the ability to join together as a group in court to effectively challenge employer discrimination,” said NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger. “The decision will have far-reaching implications not only for the hundreds of thousands of female employees of Wal-Mart but also for virtually all working women in the United States who challenge the discrimination they face in pay, promotions, and other such basic workplace issues. The ability of women to be treated fairly in the workplace hangs in the balance.”

The brief highlights the significant role of class actions in remedying pay discrimination and other forms of sex discrimination in the workplace, and the decades of legal precedents that would be overturned if this class action were prevented from proceeding. It details the broad-based nature of discrimination alleged at Wal-Mart. It includes statements from women around the country, who report that managers believed women were not breadwinners but instead were family caretakers and should be clustered into certain jobs at Wal-Mart and receive less pay and fewer managerial responsibilities. For example, a woman reported that a male manager said that “women should be home barefoot and pregnant.” Another stated that a senior vice president told her that she would not advance because she did not “hunt, fish, or do other typically-male activities” and was not “a part of the boys club.”

The brief also places the discrimination alleged at Wal-Mart in its broader context by highlighting the significant disparities in wages and promotions that exist nationwide—with the wage gap still stagnant at 77 percent, class actions are the traditional and indeed essential means for addressing the sort of persistent discrimination alleged at Wal-Mart, which women still face in many workplaces around the country. 

“This case goes to the heart of efforts to eradicate discrimination in the workplace through Title VII, the federal law that bans sex-based discrimination in employment,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC Vice President for Education and Employment.  “The Supreme Court has long held that employees may proceed together to challenge a corporate policy that empowers managers to discriminate—indeed, it is only by permitting employees to proceed collectively and overcome the barriers to bringing thousands of individual lawsuits that Title VII’s purpose will be achieved.” 

 “If the Supreme Court were to turn back the ability of women to assert their rights as a group, it would ignore the purposes of the class action mechanism and be tantamount to closing the courthouse door on large numbers of women across the country who don’t have the financial means to file their own cases,” added Greenberger. “The Supreme Court shut out an individual trying to vindicate her right to fair pay in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. We urge the Court not to do the same now that the women of Wal-Mart have joined together to bring their claims of unfair pay and promotion.  If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s decision, the women of Wal-Mart will have a true chance to equalize pay and promotions, and women around the country will still have a basic tool to vindicate their rights in court.”

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