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Wal-Mart Facing the Largest Employment Discrimination Class Action Suit in History

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The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, CA ruled on Monday that a gender discrimination class action suit against Wal-Mart could go to trial.

The 6-5 decision comes nearly 10 years after seven women filed a lawsuit in San Francisco’s federal court in 2001alleging that Wal-Mart stores paid women employees less that men in comparable positions and that women received fewer promotions and waited longer for promotions to in-store management positions. They claimed the discriminations was not just at one or a few stores, but also in stores nationwide and effecting a range of women employees from part-time entry-level hourly employees to salaried managers.

According to a New York Times article, plaintiffs showed that 65 percent of Wal-Mart’s hourly employees were women while only 33percent of company managers were.

Reuters reports that women employees were steered away from management positions, one woman told she was not qualified to manage because she could not stack bags of dog food weighing 50 pounds.

The class action could include more than one million women employed by Wal-Mart since 2001 and may be over 2 million women if a lower court rules that women employed from 1998 – 2001 can join the class.

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest private employer with 1.4 million employees.

"We do not believe the claims alleged by the six individuals who brought this suit are representative of the experiences of our female associates,” said Jeff Gearhart, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Wal-Mart in a press release. “Walmart is an excellent place for women to work and fosters female leadership among our associates and in the larger business world.”

The company is considering its options, including seeking review from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lead counsel for the plaintiffs is Brad Seligman, the executive director of the Impact Fund, which is a nonprofit foundation funding civil rights litigation. Plaintiffs are also represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll, PLLC, Washington DC; Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), San Francisco, CA; the Public Justice Center in Baltimore, MD; Davis Cowell & Bowe LLP, San Francisco, CA; Stephen Tinkler and Merit Bennett, Santa Fe, NM.