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Lawyers Warned Wal-Mart of Potential Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

The New York Times is reporting that Wal-Mart was warned of their vulnerability to a sex discrimination lawsuit and urged to do more to prevent one more than 6 years before the current class-action gender discrimination lawsuit was filed against them. The current case, Dukes v. Wal-Mart, is the largest class-action lawsuit in history. It was filed by seven women in 2001 on behalf of all current and former female employees of the company. The lawsuit claims widespread patterns of pay and promotion disparities between women and men employed by Wal-Mart.

A law firm hired by Wal-Mart to examine their vulnerability to a gender discrimination lawsuit prepared a report in 1995 that urged the employer to take steps to defend against a potential lawsuit. Among their findings, they found that men in salaried jobs earned 19 percent more than women, and men were five and a half times more likely than women to be promoted to salaried, management positions. The report also said that, in 1993, men employed by Wal-Mart as hourly-paid department managers made 5.8 percent more than women in the same positions. Overall, they found widespread disparity in pay and in job assignments for men and women.  

The case was filed in California. Lower courts (most recently a federal appeals court in San Francisco) have ruled that the case can proceed as a class-action lawsuit, with 2 million plaintiffs. Wal-Mart has been arguing that the current case involves too many women and stores, and they say the cases should be filed individually. Wal-Mart plans to present this argument to the U.S. Supreme Court this summer in the hopes they will overturn the latest ruling.

Wal-Mart disputes the findings in the attorneys' 1995 report, saying it is out-of-date and flawed, and they assert that it is confidential. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs plans to subpoena the document anyway.