Walmart wins gender discrimination case, but court questions its culture

Dive Brief:

  • Four female plaintiffs were unable to prove they suffered gender discrimination while working at Walmart, even though a court concluded that "something was indeed rotten within the corporate culture" (Forbes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 17-81225 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 16, 2019)).
  • The women, all former Walmart employees, claimed that Walmart discriminated against them in connection with their compensation, as well as promotion opportunities. They also contended that Walmart fostered systemic discrimination against women company-wide.
  • A federal district court in Florida rejected some of the claims on procedural grounds (such as failing to timely disclose an expert's report), and others due to inadequate evidence of a connection between a specific policy or practice and the plaintiffs' compensation or promotional opportunities. But the court added: "It appears, however, to be only a matter of time before Plaintiffs' counsel manages to get it right with one of the dozens of cases now pending before the Court...a female Walmart employee with better facts should be able to assemble a powerful case of gender discrimination..."

Dive Insight:

As this case shows, a victory in court does not necessarily mean that a workplace is free of bias in its compensation and promotion practices. Internal audits can uncover problems before litigation arises.
But awareness alone may not be enough. Research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has concluded that gender parity in some fields — including math, academic chemistry, and computer science — is "not inevitable" absent direct intervention. Sara Clifton, lead researcher for the University of Illinois study, noted that hiring committees could be useful in ensuring women and people of color are just as visible as other applicants both during the job hunt and in the promotion phase.
HR also plays an important role in making sure that salaries for all employees — regardless of race, religion, gender or other protected factors — are equitable when differences in experience, education and other qualifying factors are taken into account. Additionally, reports on market-rate pay can be customized on the basis of regions, job titles and other variables; these help employers determine if their overall compensation rates are competitive.
More employers are opting to stop asking about salary history in the compensation negotiation process, due in part to a growing number of states and localities passing ordinances that block such questions during the interview phase. Advocates of the laws claim that ending the practice can help women, especially, have more equal footing and stop the proliferation of any pay inequities that may gather over time due to pay disparities

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