Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Walmart and the Equal Rights Amendment

Following the Supreme Court's decision that female employees could not bring a class-action sex discrimination suit against Walmart, some lawmakers are reintroducing the Equal Rights Amendment. Considering the fact Justice Antonin Scalia has specifically said women are not protected from discrimination under the Constitution, it's easy to understand why people would want the ERA to finally be ratified. Scalia's comments in the Walmart ruling (that "merely showing that Walmart's policy of discretion has produced an overall sexbased disparity does not suffice" and that since Walmart doesn't print pamphlets saying 'pay women less' there's no "specific employment practice" the court can rule on) also show the need for some kind of constitutional protection for women.

Stephen Colbert on the Walmart ruling:

The Equal Rights Amendment is nothing new, but lawmakers are probably hoping to capitalize on some of the anger people will have with the judges ruling. Democrats Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) reintroduced the amendment and has 160 co-sponsors in the House. Rachel Maddow had a great segment on the ERA last night.

Maddow on ERA:

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It's kind of sad that people still have to argue for equal rights for women. More proof we still have a long way to go.


  1. I have a bit of an issue with the way this is being reported. Facts are being distorted. Both Colbert and Maddow (who I admire) have said that millions of women working for over 3,400 Wal-Mart stores across the USA have been discriminated against and paid less than their male counterparts. This is not true.

    This is why I take issue with class action lawsuits. The woman who originated this suit worked for Wal-Mart in 1998 and the company has come a long, long way since then with it's company policies in regards to fairness and diversity. But since the lawsuit being filed against them was class action, all the women who have worked for Wal-Mart since 1998 qualified to jump on the band wagon, despite them only having a handful of verifiable accounts of sex discrimination.

    The numbers are going to be skewed as far as the types of positions women hold vs men and their pay rates purely due to the fact that many people, particularly women, work there as a second job or only want to work there part-time due to other obligations. Many of the women who work there are mothers and/or students, for instance. So it seems wrong to me that over 1 million women, many of whom chose to take on a part-time hourly position, could sue a company for giving them what they asked for. Wal-Mart has been responsible for a lot of shitty things and they should be held accountable for those things. Including discrimination against some of it's female employees. But that should be limited to the women who faced actual discrimination and we shouldn't hold Wal-Mart accountable for the fact that lawyers who file class action law suits won't help fight their cases when they don't stand to make millions off of them anymore because there are far less women who qualify to file a suit.

  2. The lawsuit accused Walmart of paying and promoting women less than men. This does not mean ALL women were discriminated against, but rather Walmart (through their managers) has a history of paying and promoting women less overall. In this case, the court never even ruled if Walmart was discriminatory or not (so your point about full-time vs part-time, which is the argument for every claim that women are not treated equally in the workplace, isn't really important). I understand why it'd frustrate you that women who were not discriminated against would be included in the lawsuit, but that's how class actions work. Four of the judges said the allegations met the test earlier Supreme Court decisions have set out for employment-discrimination suits. Five judges disagreed by redefining the requirement to bring a case as a class action. This is what people are upset about. Justice Scalia said plaintiffs must "demonstrate that the class members have suffered the same injury."

    And yeah Walmart isn't to blame that justice in this country is for those who can pay for it, but that doesn't mean anyone has to be happy they're able to profit from the corruptness of the system. (The issue isn't just money either. It's also how far-reaching the rulings are.)

  3. Oh yeah, and you're right that people can't report someone was or wasn't discriminated against based on this ruling.

    I read that "More than 70 percent of Wal-Mart’s hourly workers are female, but women represent less than 10 percent of store managers and 4 percent of district managers, according the lawsuit. And only six of the 36 senior management executives listed on the retailer's site are female." So people can say women are discriminated against (intentionally or unintentionally), but not because of this ruling. Whether or not you agree or disagree is also up for interpretation.

  4. I've been very disappointed by the 5-4 rulings the last few years.

  5. I disagree with class action lawsuits across the board. I don't really care how they're defined. Even in the situation where everyone suffered the exact same thing. For example, Movie Gallery had a horrendous late policy where they charged you daily fees when most movie places will simply re-rent the movie to your account for the category it's rentable (like 1-night, 2-nights, 5-nights) for the same fee you paid to rent it originally. Every customer of Movie Gallery was a victim of this late fee penalty and they had records of it all. Rather than go back and look up records of late fees charged to customers and cutting them checks or even crediting their accounts, they had coupons printed out on the rental desks at every location. In order to benefit from being a part of the class action suit, you had to continue to patronize Movie Gallery. The lawyers in the case got paid lump sums and the movie franchise continued to make money off of customers, only changing their late policy to a more fair one.

    If this had been deemed to qualify as a class action suit, and then the women won the case of discrimination, the women would not have been any better off. The lawyers in the case would have made millions off of Wal-Mart and those women would still be working minimum wage, probably at Wal-Mart. The women who were actually discriminated against deserve to win cases against the company, absolutely, and they would fare better that way.

    The statistics aren't broken down enough to make a good judgement. "70%" of hourly workers, well there are hourly managers (Customer Service Managers, Department Managers, Zone Managers, Back Room Managers) and many of these jobs have more friendly hours for students and parents because they're steady (7am - 4pm M-F), where as the salaried management shifts are (7am-8pm on a 3 day rotation, 3 on/3 off). There are also tiers of salaried management within each store and the store manager does far more traveling, like district managers, than assistant and co-managers, which would make store manager a less desirable position for a primary parent. The number of those types of managers per store depends on the size of the store, but even in a smaller store there are like 8 assistants (who start out at like $40k yearly) and 2+ co-managers(who start out at $60k yearly). Most of the women who are district managers or who are up in the senior management are past their child-bearing years and have children who are grown themselves.

    P.S. I'm not angry at you, so I hope this doesn't sound that way. I really respect your opinion about everything. =)

  6. So we should not be angry at Walmart but we should demonize lawyers? One part of the system is problematic but not another? That can't be right. Even if class actions are problematic, which everything about the justice system is, they are the only way some people can get fair compensation. Plus it helps unclog the courts and saves federal time and resources.

    And you can't possibly tell me those statistics aren't startling to you. Plus, no one said the statistics are the only measure of discrimination. I agree that we can't look at the numbers and say we know for sure, but to dismiss them so readily is just as problematic. You must know this.

  7. That's not what I said at all. I said in both comments that Wal-Mart was responsible for a lot of shitty things and they should be held responsible for those things. I just disagree with class action lawsuits because no one but the lawyers and Wal-Mart would benefit from that being their 'punishment'.

    I'm not really upset about the statistics. I already explained why. Statistics can be used to win any argument if you pick the right ones (e.g. stating 70% of hourly workers, when many hourly positions are management positions.) I wouldn't say we should outright dismiss them, but they need to be examined more closely and in context.

  8. Bret: I agree!

    Sarah: I wrote my comment just before bed so I forgot to mention this, but I want to say I'm totally cool with us disagreeing and I don't take anything personal. I know that it can be hard on the internet, but I think you're lovely and it's great that we don't agree on everything. How boring would that be?

    And of course statistics aren't enough by themselves. No one ever said they were. But they can illustrate a potential problem and make people pay more attention. I don't even care about the 70% number. I care about the 10% because this is the problem in all types of jobs. Women are clumped at the bottom and sorely lacking in the top. Is this because some women choose this? Of course. But lots of women don't and yet they suffer from the commonly accepted idea that women are at the bottom simply because they choose to be there. But once again, this isn't the issue at heart here.

    I don't think anyone likes class action lawsuits. But they have a function. Do some lawyers benefit from this system? Of course. But so do hurt people who wouldn't receive any kind of justice otherwise, especially if the company hurts them in a way that is minor but is widespread amongst a lot of people (like a whole town). Look, I'm not trying to defend anything here or say I don't agree with some of your criticisms. I'm just saying I think class actions have a use in some cases.

  9. NO citizen of the united states should be discriminated against, be it gender, race, religion, heritage, or sexual orientation !

    I'd hate to inform Falwell (if he were still alive), but I could give two shits if a woman played in the NFL. I suspect if she were qualified, someone would hire her - for the marketing angle, if nothing else. Professional sports are a meritocracy, the good excell, the bad don't.
    I served in the Army with, and for, females. It's no big deal. And, yes, If males can be drafted, females should be held to the same standard.
    As fucked up as it is, I believe the US Military is on the forefront of equal rights. They were with minorities, they are with females.

  10. I agree. Saying 'women will have to fight' is not really a good argument. For one, they already do. For two, not drafting women is actually one way we protect ourselves from the horrors of war I think. And that's wrong.

  11. I agree with mac: It's terrible that things like this concerning sexual orientation, gender, race, religion etc happen so often. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that people can be so ignorant, but then there they are.

    The unisex bathroom/family cohesiveness problem in Rachel's clip made me laugh, but in sort of a horrified way. Why would making women equal to men also make them stuck using the same bathroom? As long as the bathrooms are in equal condition, there is nothing saying that would have to happen. As for family cohesiveness, at the time of the clip it probably seemed shocking that men and women could have the same rights and roles, but now there are parents exchanging roles all the time. Stay-at-home dads with working wives or both parents working isn't uncommon anymore, which I think is great.

    But still, things like the Walmart issue happen because our government is really messed up. Women have nothing concrete giving them equal rights, and Walmart is allowed to get away with bending the rights rules with a lot of women and not get much of a penalty. This shouldn't even happen with one person, much less millions.

    Big businesses need to get a reality check, and that can only happen when the government gives them one. Many large corporations are getting away with immoral and illegal stuff, and government sometimes doesn't interfere because it's not within their best interest. After banks more or less screwed up the economy, government handed them money to fix it. Banks then gave the people who screwed up the economy big bonuses.

    Doesn't it ever occur to government that some things are just wrong and should never be done or let happen?

  12. Meg: Very well thought out comment! Personally I'm all for unisex bathrooms. ;)


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