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WAL-MART LAWSUIT Women's brief details discrimination



Published: Wed, April 30, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Lawyers are seeking a suit to cover more than 1.5 million workers.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Female managers of Wal-Mart Inc. were required to attend strip clubs with male colleagues on business trips, according to a brief to be filed today in federal court for a group of California women suing the largest U.S. retailer for job discrimination.

The women's declarations also say they had to take business meetings at Hooters, a restaurant where food is served by amply endowed women clad in tight shirts.

And the top brass of Wal-Mart's Sam's Club stores referred to female employees in weekly executive meetings as "little Janie Qs" and "girls," even after a female vice president complained. The executive, who no longer works at Wal-Mart, said her complaint earned her a warning against being overly judgmental.

About the case

The testimony was collected to support a request that the case proceed as a class action on behalf of more than 1.5 million women employed by Wal-Mart since late 1998. The proposed class dwarfs the size of other employment discrimination cases and, if approved, would make the suit one of the largest against a corporation.

The brief, which comes 17 months after the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, paints the most detailed picture yet of the scope and effect on women of the reported discrimination. It argues that a gender pay gap -- which plaintiffs' experts say averages about 5 percent throughout the company -- is a reflection and result of a culture of bias that flows from Wal-Mart's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters and permeates nearly every store.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams denied any pervasive bias within the company and disputed the plaintiffs' analysis of the evidence.

She said that experts who analyzed payroll data for the company found that "nine out of 10 times, women and men are paid equally," and that women are promoted at the same rate at which they apply for positions.

Brief features testimony

The 61-page brief filed by plaintiffs pulls testimony from more than 100 depositions of executives and the voluntary declarations of 110 female employees. In them, some women described being discouraged from applying for management positions and jobs in sporting goods, meat departments and other areas dominated by men.

Others recalled instances where male managers not only acknowledged but endorsed a pay gap between men and women.

One woman quoted in the brief said she asked why her pay was lower than a less-qualified male worker. Her department manager's reply: "You don't have the right equipment. You aren't male, so you can't expect to be paid the same."

Brad Seligman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the attitude conveyed in the comment is not an aberration.

"We've got more than 100 declarations from 30 states," said Seligman, director of the Oakland, Calif.-based Impact Fund, a legal advocacy organization.




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