WAL-MART Class-action suit is OK'd

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Creating the largest private civil rights case in U.S. history, a federal judge approved a class-action sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. representing as many as 1.6 million current and former women workers.
The suit alleges that the retail giant set up a system that frequently pays its female workers less than their male counterparts for comparable jobs and bypasses them for key promotions.
U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins ruled Tuesday to expand the lawsuit to include virtually all women who have worked at Wal-Mart's 3,500 stores nationwide since December 1998.
The decision that the case merits class action was pivotal because it gives lawyers for the women tremendous leverage as they pursue punitive damages, as well as back pay and other compensation.
Jenkins found that the evidence so far "raises an inference that Wal-Mart engages in discriminatory practices" against women.
Wal-Mart downplayed the significance of the ruling and promised an appeal.
John C. Fox, a California labor attorney, said women could be entitled to recover wages if a statistical analysis shows similarly situated male employees earned more. But if women are seeking compensation for being glossed over for promotions, each plaintiff would have to prove that, which Fox said could be virtually impossible because of the number of women involved.
"It strikes me this case is crying to be settled," he said.

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