What’s Left of Class Actions for Gender Discrimination after Dukes v. Walmart

In the pages of Brooklyn-based n+1 magazine of culture, politics and literature, writer Dayna Tortorici gives her take on the future of class action claims of gender discrimination after the infamous Dukes v. Walmart case:

What the women in Dukes sought to put on trial was an entire culture of sexism: an unspoken, or at least unofficial ethos that influenced millions of decisions by independent actors across the company. What was interesting about their evidence was that it showed how despite the absence of a central policy of discrimination, sexist practices were operative everywhere at Wal-Mart, from Anchorage to Orlando. Too widespread to be dismissed as the errors of a few “bad apples” in a few “problem regions,” the behavior Dukes reported was the product of something much more expansive and amorphous — something that ultimately painted a picture of sex discrimination as it actually exists today. There are no central policies, no pronouncements in company literature that say, “No Women May Advance, nor Receive Equal Pay for Equal Work.” But that does not mean sexism does not exist, nor that women are given due compensation for their labor.

As it was, men at Wal-Mart didn’t need to conspire to keep women down; they did it perfectly well as individuals. Until Wal-Mart computerized its job application process in the mid-2000s, an employee who wanted a promotion first had to ask her manager how to go about getting one. If for whatever reason he (and usually he was a he) didn’t think she (and usually she was a she) deserved it, he would either avoid her, flat out deny her information about required training programs, or tell her some other step was required first — like relocating, holding her present job for at least a year, or being able to demonstrate some arbitrary “necessary” skill, like lifting fifty pounds of dog food. If a new position opened up and a store manager never posted a flyer advertising the job, a woman seeking a promotion might find that a male coworker — or an out-of-towner chummy with a guy higher up — had taken the job before she even knew it existed. If she did manage to land a higher-level job, she could expect to make anywhere from $2,400 to $139,000 less than her male counterparts per year. After a while, even Wal-Mart’s most faithful female employees — those who had hung around for more than a decade, thought unions were “not for this company,” and truly believed in Wal-Mart’s emphasis on being “a family” — would get wise.

Read the very smart full post here.

-Bridget Crawford

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