June 28, 2004 – Plaintiffs in the massive class-action sex discrimination suit against Wal-Mart face an uphill battle, despite extensive evidence of gender bias in hiring and promotions. In order to qualify for damages, the lawyers for the plaintiffs need to prove that the discrimination was part of Wal-Mart policy.
Boston University professor and employment law specialist Michael C. Harper said, "There doesnâ€™t have to be a memo, but it has to be something thatâ€™s understood by managers, rewarded, approved. If itâ€™s not a policy, itâ€™s just that at some stores some managers discriminate, then they havenâ€™t really shown that itâ€™s class-wide discrimination."
Wal-Mart plans to appeal the recent decision to grant class-action status for 1.6 million women employed by the retail giant during the past five years. The company may seek to have the class separated into two groups, one for unequal pay claims and another for unequal promotions. Separating the case would make the process much more complicated, raising legal costs considerably, and perhaps deterring women from getting involved in the suit.