Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wal-Mart Sex Discrimination: Let's Sue the Patriarchy Too!

The Supreme Court heard opening arguments on behalf (and against) up to a million women today to determine the class action status of a Wal-Mart employment discrimination case. Those of us who’ve been following the case know what’s at stake if the court finds in favor of Wal-Mart: Not only would the corporate juggernaut responsible for filling your house with cheap plastic crap be more or less let off the hook for systematized sex discrimination, it would become harder for victims of job bias to secure class-action status, forcing low-wage workers to try their cases individually – virtually ensuring no future employee litigation case ever reaches viability, ever.

Dire, no? First, a brief history of the arguments for and against (more or less) from the magazine Corporate Counsel:

In certifying the class, the lower court said it found that there was significant evidence of centralized corporate-wide practices involving sexual stereotyping and excessive subjectivity in personnel decisions, as well as statistical evidence of gender disparities, and anecdotal evidence of gender bias. The court said it saw a "common pattern" of Wal-Mart's discriminating against women workers nationwide.

In its brief to the Court, Wal-Mart argues that millions of discretionary personnel decisions on pay and promotions by thousands of individual managers defy any common pattern of treatment.

Let’s entertain Wal-Mart’s counterargument, shall we? From a purely feminist theory perspective, this argument actually holds some water. Why? Because those “millions of discretionary personnel decisions on pay and promotions by thousands of individual managers” were surely not solely influenced by the Long Arm of Corporate America (although surely that played a not-insignificant part), they were also influenced by the sexism that runs rampant through every fiber of society’s fabric.

So instead of suing Wal-Mart*, let’s certify every victim of the existing gender wage gap (read: all women worldwide) as members of a giant class action against the patriarchy. Since millions of discretionary personnel decisions are made every single day by managers who really ARE independent and not affiliated with Wal-Mart, but they’re made to consistently favor men in terms of power, prestige, and money, it’s clear that there is significant evidence of centralized worldwide practices involving sexual stereotyping, gender disparities, and gender bias.

Let’s sue the patriarchy! Who's with me?

*Actually, not instead of, in addition to. Wal-Mart deserves to get sued, a lot. And so does every company that filed an Amicus Brief in support of Wal-Mart’s Evil Anti-Largesse.


  1. Yes! Let's sue the Patriarchy! Although I don't know what court would try the case. Didn't someone sue god once? Any other commenters out there lawyers? We could make it a movement!

  2. The whole Wal-Mart thing is the result of deliberate policy, as laid out in the pages of *To Serve God and Wal-Mart* by Bethany Moreton. The idea is to tap into the good Christian woman's desire to serve. She will be delighted to do the scut work she's done all her life and get paid for, because that pittance is more than the nothing she got before.
    She can supplement the family income and get out of the house, too, in places where there are no other jobs for women. It gives her a small amount of prestige and some feeling that she is part of the larger world.
    That is exactly the way Wal-Mart operates around here, and it's very successful.
    Excellent read. Very illuminating.

  3. I watched a documentary about the unscrupulous practices at Walmart. Women were blatantly told they were not going to get promoted because of their gender. There should be a chance to rise and be acknowledged for hard work but this concept doesn't apply as strongly to women. This perpetuates men having all the economic power and influence while women remain vulnerable to their whims.
    Social Science Medley

  4. Wow, Hattie and D. Heath - I had no idea there was so much literature on the topic of Wal-Mart's deviousness with regards to gender-pay discrimination in particular. I've seen/read plenty on their price-chopping their way into ruining local businesses business, and other harmful labor practices, however. D. Heath - what's the name of that documentary? I would like to check it out, in addition to Moreton's book!

  5. Also - Stephanie: Yes! I was hoping some lawyer-types would take up the cause and cause a ruckus worthy of at the very least a PR kefuffle. But, alas, as a wise person said, the Patriarchy is like the Matrix.

  6. Wow I am sorry it is like this at some/most places. I had no idea this was a problem at wal-mart I worked at The evil W and hated every bit of it but that was one area the store I worked for didn't have a problem. Virtually all of the managers and higher-up's were female and women were almost always given prefernce over males when it came to promotions and raises.

  7. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience, Tiara! Even though you hated working at the Wal-Mart, it sounds like you were lucky in that you didn't have to face the one huge negative of gender discrimination many others faced there.

    One of the things I find most interesting about the Wal-Mart sex discrimination lawsuit is that it is entirely data-driven, not anecdote-driven. That gives it a lot more credibility in the minds of the public, and helps to bring awareness to the larger issue of sex discrimination in the workplace, which is far from limited outside of companies like Wal-Mart. One post you might like to read that shows some interesting statistics is here.



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