Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Walmart: Wear A Dress, Get Paid Less

Whoa. Just when we turn our attention away from the boys of Mordor, they're back in the news. This time as the victims of activist judges who are all up in their grills about some equal pay for equal work jive. See that's what's wrong with America these days, judges who are always going on about law and stuff (Where's Tom DeLay when you need him? Oh, packing for jail. Never mind).

Well, anyway, back to Walmart. The largest sexual discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history moved forward against Wal-Mart when a federal appeals court approved class-action status for seven women who claim the retailer was biased in pay and promotions. "These charges are totally without merit," said a Walmart spokesperson. "Walmart is a southern company started by southern gentlemen. We treat ladies with great respect. We put them on pedestals, we honor their femininity."

When told that the lawsuit was about unequal pay and promotion rates the spokesperson responded, "Well, there is that, but I defy you to find a female employee who didn't get flowers and a nice card on her birthday."

"Plaintiff's expert opinions, factual evidence, statistical evidence and anecdotal evidence present significant proof of a corporate policy of discrimination and support plaintiff's contention that female employees nationwide were subjected to a common pattern and practice of discrimination," the court wrote in a 2-1 decision. "Guess we know how many people on that panel of judges are women," said a Walmart executive who asked not to be named.

Wal-Mart said it would ask the court to rehear the case with the same three-judge panel or with 15 judges, a move likely to idle the case for months. "You know how flighty women can be, especially around 'that time of the month,'" said the unnamed executive. "We're hoping they just forget they're suing us."

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart has argued it did not discriminate and that class-action status should be dismissed because the company grants its 3,400 U.S. stores a great deal of independence in their management. "Each local manager is free to chose whom to discriminate against and how," said Wal-Mart attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr.

Donald Gher, chief investment officer of Coldstream Capital Management, which owns Wal-Mart stock, said the decision was a setback for the retailer and would cheer the company's critics in the U.S. labor movement. "Are you ready to pay $1.29 for dish soap, because that's what's going to happen if women have to be paid the same as everyone else. The money to protect profits and keep dividends up will have to come out of somebody's pocket," he said.

"This is one step of what is going to be a long process," Wal-Mart attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. said. "We are very optimistic of obtaining relief from this ruling." He said Wal-Mart's own review found no significant disparity in pay between men and women at 90 percent of its stores. "And by 'significant disparity' we mean that one group would be paid with money and the other with Cocoa Puffs."

Robin Conrad, a vice president with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blasted the decision. If it stands, she said, it likely would force Wal-Mart to settle out of court than risk losing at trial. "It's especially hard to win trials when you're guilty as sin," she added.

Brad Seligman, one of the attorneys who represented the women suing Wal-Mart, said the decision would hurt the company's reputation. "But what the heck," Seligman added, "It's Walmart. As long as you can get chicken at 79 cents a pound, what do you care what they do to their employees?"

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