Court Documents Say Wal-Mart Ignored Sex Discrimination Warnings

July 15, 2005 ( - Court documents filed in a pending 2001 sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart show the giant retailer not only didn't implement change recommendations, it disbanded the panel that advanced the suggestions.

Two years after Wal-Mart ignored the 1998 findings of its own diversity task force, the company had a smaller percentage of female managers, according to a Bloomberg news report.

Observers say the in-court revelations may prompt the Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart to settle the case to avoid the risk of losing at trial and being liable for back pay, punitive damages and employee raises. “Wal-Mart’s chances of losing this at trial are very, very high,” says Washington employment attorney Richard Seymour, 63, who has represented workers in cases including a racial discrimination suit against textiles-maker J.P. Stevens & Co. that settled for $20 million in 1995, according to Bloomberg.

Six current and former female employees filed the lawsuit in 2001 on behalf of all female Wal-Mart workers. About 60% of the company’s 1.3 million US employees are women. According to court documents, the case could eventually cover at least 1.5 million women who have been employed over the past five years atroughly 3,400 Wal-Mart stores.

The court file already includes about 47,000 pages of depositions, or sworn statements in response to lawyers’ questions, from current and former Wal-Mart employees taken from March 2002 to March 2003, Bloomberg reported.

For its part, Wal-Mart insisted that it hasn’t engaged in gender discrimination. The company has appealed a June 2004 decision by US District Judge Martin Jenkins of the US District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco to let the case proceed as a class action. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has scheduled oral arguments on the appeal for August 8. The class certification ruling in Dukes versus Wal-Mart Stores is here .

Bloomberg’s in-depth review of the case is here .