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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Personal Stories Demonstrate Indignities Female Employees Face at Wal-Mart

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, a sex discrimination class action against the retail giant, on March 29. AFJ’s Justice Watch blog will highlight specific aspects of the case in daily installments between now and the date of oral arguments. Today we highlight some of the declarations from women who described the deep-seated sexism that is pervasive among Wal-Mart managers. For example:
  • Senior management for Sam’s Club, a Wal-Mart affiliate, often referred to female store employees during Home Office executive meetings as “Janie Qs” and “girls.” When a female executive who was new to the company objected to the terms, the criticism was not well received and senior managers continued to use them.
  • A Wal-Mart company newsletter featured a photograph from a company event showing Wal-Mart’s Executive Vice President of Operations and Chief Operating Officer posing on a leopard-skin stiletto high-heel-shoe chair while surrounded by women singing and dancing.
  • When a female employee with five years at Wal-Mart and a Master’s Degree asked her department manager why her pay was less than that of a just-hired 17-year-old boy, the manager said: “You don’t have the right equipment.…You aren’t male, so you can’t expect to be paid the same.”
  • A manager told plaintiff Chris Kwapnoski that she needed to “doll-up” and “blow the cobwebs off” her make-up.
  • A store manager also told Kwapnoski that he gave a male associate a larger raise because the male associate had “a family to support.” This was a common refrain from Wal-Mart managers.
  • A male department manager told a female employee that male employees will always make more than female employees because “God made Adam first, so women would always be second to men.”
  • During a job interview to be a department manager, an assistant manager told Cleo Page that it was man’s world and that men control managerial positions at Wal-Mart.
  • A male support manager responded to a female employee’s request for a transfer to Hardware by asking, “[y]ou’re a girl, why do you want to be in Hardware?”
  • When a female district manager asked a male store manager why he always put female assistant managers in charge of Softlines, he responded “because that’s what women know.”
  • When a female employee with experience in Sporting Goods expressed interest in becoming a Sporting Goods department manager, a male assistant manager told her, “[y]ou don’t want to work with guns.”
  • When a female employee sought a position as a meat cutter, a male meat manager told her that Wal-Mart does not hire women as meat cutters. Similar arguments were used by managers to keep women out of the Electronics and Domestics departments.
The bias against women also pervades the Walton Institute, a company training center that “provides an educational environment for Wal[-M]art leaders from around the world to learn more about themselves and about Wal[-M]art’s unique company culture and how to sustain that culture.” At Institute sessions, participants in a discussion on diversity within the company were told that so few women were managers because “men have been more aggressive in achieving those levels of responsibility.” Company executives and managers also said that promoting women would require standards to be lowered.

Sam Walton, Wal-Mart’s founder, was an avid quail hunter and from the earliest days of the company invited top managers to an annual quail hunt. When women urged an alternative bonding experience, it was rejected as interfering with tradition. One woman who was hired from outside to be a Vice President of Sam’s Club described Wal-Mart as a “very tight, deep culture” and “very closed.” As she recalled, “I didn’t go hunting with them, I didn’t go fishing with them, I wondered if I had been able to do some of those things if I might have assimilated more quickly into the organization.” Female store managers were also required to attend business functions at strip clubs and Hooters. Wal-Mart’s Executive Vice President for People defended holding a district meeting at Hooters by claiming it was “one of the best places to meet and eat” in town.

Plaintiffs’ statistics provide a clear picture of the degree to which women are denied opportunities to succeed at Wal-Mart, but personal stories demonstrate the daily indignities that female employees must endure. For more information, click here to download AFJ’s special report on Wal-Mart v. Dukes.


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