Wal-Mart Sex Discrimination Lawsuit
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PAUL SOLMAN: Hoping to get promoted, Betty Dukes used to be as gung-ho as her male Wal-Mart bosses wanted.
WOMAN: Whose Wal-Mart is it?
WOMAN: My Wal-Mart!
PAUL SOLMAN: During the daily cheer, for instance.
BETTY DUKES, Wal-Mart Employee: They’ll say clap, clap, we clap, clap louder. We clap loud. They say cheer, they say, “I can’t hear you.” It gets louder. And “I can’t hear you.” And I’m louder still. “I can’t hear you!” I’m louder still.
PAUL SOLMAN: Dukes’ enthusiasm was rewarded, some might say, when after four years she was promoted to customer service manager in 1997, working the complaint desk. The pay?
WOMAN: About $6.45.
PAUL SOLMAN: An hour.
WOMAN: An hour, yes. Don’t look so shocked. I was shocked, too.
PAUL SOLMAN: In San Francisco, where Dukes still works for Wal-Mart, that’s below the federal poverty line. Meanwhile, all around her, she says, men were being promoted to real management jobs at real management pay. So in 2001, Duke sued Wal-Mart for gender discrimination. She’s now lead plaintiff in a landmark case, the largest workplace bias suit ever, covering the so-called class of women– some 1.6 million of them– who worked at Wal-Mart sometime in the past six years. Hundreds of millions of dollars in lost wages could be at stake, and the judge in charge called the suit historic in nature, dwarfing other discrimination cases. Edith Arana is another plaintiff. She worked at Wal-Mart for six years in southern California.
EDITH ARANA: I have never seen a man that has, like, struggled, done everything he was supposed to do, worked overtime, sacrificed his family time, come in on days that he wasn’t supposed to– I’ve never seen a man that would go through that and not get what he was promised. But the women, they do it over and over and over again.
PAUL SOLMAN: When Arana finally complained, she was terminated, she says, just 11 months shy of being fully vested in her pension. Gina Espinoza actually made it into lower management, where she says she was sexually and even racially harassed by her boss on more than one occasion.
GINA ESPIONZA: He used to call me the little Mexican princess. So…
PAUL SOLMAN: The little Mexican princess?
GINA ESPINOZA: Yes.
PAUL SOLMAN: Your boss would call you that?
GINA ESPINOZA: Yes.
PAUL SOLMAN: Espinoza was fired while on vacation, shortly after initiating a sexual harassment complaint. She was seven months short of her pension vesting. Brad Seligman, head of a nonprofit law firm in Berkeley, California, is lead lawyer in the class action suit.
BRAD SELIGMAN: Well, the suit basically charges that Wal-Mart has two work forces. One work force, which is female, is 70 percent of the workers and less than a third of the managers. They get paid less. They get less promotions.
PAUL SOLMAN: And the other work force?
BRAD SELIGMAN: Is the male work force. It’s one-third of the hourly workers, more than two-thirds of the managers. They get paid better.
PAUL SOLMAN: According to statistics commissioned by the plaintiffs in 2001, Wal-Mart paid men more than women on average in every job category and the higher the job, the greater the difference. For example, male district managers made 35 percent more than females; male regional vice presidents, 50 percent more. In addition, women filled only 10 percent of those top jobs. It’s all part of what Seligman calls Wal-Mart’s non-system of promotion.
BRAD SELIGMAN: To get promoted, there was no application process, there was no posting. What there was, was the tap on the shoulder. A manager, most likely a male, would reach down and tap the shoulder of some favorite, and that person would be anointed to become the next manager. And we all know people are comfortable with what looks like them, and the face of senior management at Wal-Mart is the face of middle management at Wal-Mart, is the face of lower management at Wal-Mart. It’s mostly a male face.
CLAUDIA RENATI: The average white, 22-, 30- year-old white male. That’s all I ever saw promoted.
PAUL SOLMAN: For years, Claudia Renati tried to move up from her job as assistant marketing manager at a Sam’s Club, a Wal-Mart subsidiary. She says all her reviews were excellent.
CLAUDIA RENATI: Yet I couldn’t get into management.
PAUL SOLMAN: Why not?
CLAUDIA RENATI: Because I couldn’t lift 50 pounds of dog food consecutively, was the last thing that I was told. And I said, I don’t think so. I mean, I just had surgery six weeks ago. I don’t think I could do that. And he said, “no.” He goes, “no, can’t do anything for you.”
PAUL SOLMAN: Wal-Mart denies the charge of discrimination, and is expected to appeal. Lawyers for the company argue that individual stores and district managers decide pay and promotions, not the home office. Vice president for corporate communications Mona Williams:
MONA WILLIAMS: I’m not sure how representative a couple of stories are of the Wal-Mart experience.
PAUL SOLMAN: Williams’ office introduced us to a counterexample, Betty Dutton.
BETTY DUTTON: Well, let me tell you about my experience at my store.
PAUL SOLMAN: As a young mother in the ’60s, Dutton worked part- time in Arkansas, leaving in the ’70s to stay home with the kids. In 1980, she returned full-time, made store manager in 1990.
BETTY DUTTON: Wal-Mart has many, many times asked me to do other things, from district going on up to regional. But this store here, I love it. I love northwest Arkansas. And the main thing I like is, they have given me the opportunity to train people.
PAUL SOLMAN: What can a store manager expect to make? I’m not asking for your salary, but…
BETTY DUTTON: Well, you know, you ask me things that I really don’t care to discuss at this time. But I will tell you, Wal-Mart has treated me wonderful. I have had every opportunity in the world to be or do anything I want to at Wal-Mart. And I think the high achievers that want it, it’s there.
PAUL SOLMAN: According to the plaintiffs’ 2001 statistics, however, Dutton’s experience is unusual. Only 14 percent of Wal-Mart store managers were female when the suit began, and they earned about 15 percent less than their male counterparts. But Mona Williams insists Wal-Mart is changing.
MONA WILLIAMS: Over the years, we’ve made more and more progress in promoting women into management job. So right now, about 40 percent– just under 40 percent– of our managers are female. We still have some work to do there. But we’re putting our money where our mouth is. For example, we’re ensuring that we promote women at the same rate that they apply for jobs, or even better. We’ve established an office of diversity, and put someone in charge to drive that improvement. And trust me, she is driving that improvement. This year, for the first time, we are tying diversity goals to compensation for our officers.
PAUL SOLMAN: But it’s not just the numbers, say the plaintiffs. It’s the culture of Wal-Mart as well, which is why the lawsuit includes sexual harassment claims like Chris Kwapnoski’s. She’s worked at Sam’s Club since 1986.
CHRIS KWAPNOSKI: I asked what I needed to do to get promoted, and I was told to doll up and blow cobwebs off my makeup.
PAUL SOLMAN: Blow the cobwebs off your makeup? That’s a quote?
CHRIS KWAPNOSKI: Yes, from our general manager at the time. And I asked him exactly what that meant. You know, was I supposed to wear skirts and high heels on the receiving dock, you know, while I’m driving power equipment? I never really had a comment back on it. He just kind of looked at me and was like, you know, you just need to doll up.
GINA ESPINOZA: I was the only female manager at all of the meetings that we had, district meetings and such. And these guys were just, you know, wanting to have their meetings at Hooters.
PAUL SOLMAN: What’s Hooters?
CHRIS KWAPNOSKI: Hooters. You never heard of Hooters?
CLAUDIA RENATI: The dress code is short- short-short shorts and skimpy little tops.
WOMAN: You get titillating moments at Hooters.
PAUL SOLMAN: And hooters are?
CHRIS KWAPNOSKI: Hooters.
PAUL SOLMAN: Breasts.
CHRIS KWAPNOSKI: There you go.
PAUL SOLMAN: Wal-Mart’s response to the sexual harassment charges? That of course there have been some abuses. This is, after all, the largest employer in the history of America.
MONA WILLIAMS: We have 1.3 million people in this country. I think that’s the size of the city of San Antonio. Yes, we have had folks who have made the bad decisions. But how do we deal with that? If anybody does that, we deal with that manager. We fire managers who make decisions that abuse associates.
PAUL SOLMAN: But sometimes, perhaps, those managers have fired others first. Gina Espinoza was let go. She now runs her own consulting firm. Edith Arana is studying to become a teacher. Claudia Renati is executive director of a local arts council. Chris Kwapnoski still works at Sam’s Club. And Betty Dukes is a Wal-Mart greeter, welcoming customers to the store.
MAN: How y’all doing today? Thanks for coming to Wal-Mart.
BETTY DUKES: This time a year ago I was making roughly $8.48 after my ninth year of employment. Now my salary, after various increases, now it’s at $12.53 an hour.
PAUL SOLMAN: What accounts for that?
BETTY DUKES: In all honesty, I believe that it was a spin-off from my active participation in this class action lawsuit.
PAUL SOLMAN: Wal-Mart is expected to appeal the class action ruling tomorrow.