Women Against Wal-Mart
The Catholic Catechism sums up an ethical imperative that all Christians can agree with: "Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination: men and women, healthy and disabled, natives and immigrants."
Among the labor-related legal actions against Wal-Mart is a class-action racial discrimination lawsuit, but the case most occupying Wal-Mart's legal teams accuses the retailer of systematic sex discrimination. Four of the six named plaintiffs are evangelical women.
The lead plaintiff, Betty Dukes, an ordained minister who until recently served in a Northern Baptist church, claims Wal-Mart denied her training and promotion opportunities that it offered to men. The 54-year-old Dukes told ct she decided to challenge Wal-Mart for the same reason she once led a campaign to persuade a gas station convenience store to put covers over pornographic magazines: As a gospel preacher, she feels compelled to stand up against injustice.
"When I felt unfairly treated, my religious belief allowed me to deal with the situation and not lose my perspectivenot become belligerent," Dukes says. "Because of my religious upbringing and training, I disciplined myself to know that in a course of due time, you can work out many things to your advantage."
Dukes's role as an associate minister at St. Mark Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, California, was unpaid (she recently left over a leadership election dispute), and she worked as a cashier at Wal-Mart until carpal tunnel syndrome forced her into her current job as a greeter. Speaking by telephone on her lunch break, she said that in the 1990s she felt she had a right to realize her potential.
"I saw myself as trainable, but I saw myself not getting the training," she said. "I would go home after work, and sometimes I would be wounded, sometimes I would be angry. I would read the Scriptures, I would encourage myselfI didn't want to come in so full of anger and bitterness and go off on my supervisor and lose my job."
The plaintiffs in Betty Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. base their case on anecdotes and statistics, claiming that only 14 percent of the top managers at Wal-Mart's U.S. stores are female. About two-thirds of its hourly employees are women, while women make up only a little more than a third of all its salaried managers. More than 100 women in 30 states have provided declarations. In June 2004 a federal judge in San Francisco ruled there was enough evidence to grant class-action status. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 1.6 million current and former female employees.
The lawsuit claims that the average proportion of women in managerial positions at the 20 largest U.S. retailers is about 20 percent higher than at Wal-Mart. It also asserts that the 5 percent to 15 percent additional pay that men make in the same jobs that women hold at Wal-Mart is unrelated to seniority or performance reviews.
Wal-Mart "strongly denies" the sex-discrimination charges and has appealed the class-action certification. The company asserts that most of its employment decisions are made on the store level and thus do not show a pattern of corporate discrimination. Wal-Mart has filed statistics attempting to show that women are paid fairly and that they are less apt than males to apply for promotions.
At the same time, the company has taken measures to improve in this area, says Wal-Mart vice president of communications Mona Williams.
"We have specific programs in place," she said, "to make sure we have a talent pool of women and minorities who are well prepared to step into these jobs, including our Women in Leadership program, which helps prepare female associates for more professional responsibility."