Angry Workers Up The Ante At Wal-Mart

A file photo of a Wal-Mart store; a suburban N.Y. Wal-Mart was briefly evacuated after a telephoned bomb threat on "Black Friday," Nov. 29, 2013. AP

Wal-Mart is on the receiving end of what could become the largest class action employment lawsuit in U.S. history.

Male managers at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. required their female counterparts to attend meetings at strip clubs and at Hooters restaurants, lawyers said in documents filed Monday in federal court.

The documents, detailing more than 100 complaints by women against the company, are part of a nearly 2-year-old lawsuit against the Bentonville, Ark., retail chain, the nation's largest private employer.

A hearing is set for July 25 in which attorneys for the women will ask a federal judge to elevate the seven-plaintiff suit into a nationwide, class action sex discrimination case.

"Women are treated as second-class employees at Wal-Marts from Florida to Alaska," said Brad Seligman, a plaintiffs' attorney.

The suit seeks to represent as many as 1.5 million current and former female employees at Wal-Mart. The suit charges that Wal-Mart, which also operates Sam's Club, systematically discriminates against female employees across the nation by denying them promotions and equal pay.

Wal-Mart employs a million workers in 3,300 stores nationwide.

Mona Williams, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said the briefs illustrate "isolated complaints" against the company.

"The fact that a man might force female associates to bars and places like that to have meetings, it's very offensive to me and everybody else at Wal-Mart," Williams said. "That's not who we are. We might have some knucklehead out there that thinks that's OK to do. But that's not who we are or how we think."

Williams added that if a manager had demanded a woman do that, "he's out of here that same day."

The suit, filed in San Francisco in June 2001, alleges there are nearly double the number of women in management at competing retail stores and that male Wal-Mart workers get higher pay than women for the same duties. It also says the retailing giant passes over women for promotions and training, and retaliates against women who complain.

Christine Kwapnoski, one of the original seven plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she personally has been passed over for promotions many times in the 16 years she's worked at the Sam's Club division of Wal-Mart.

"Because I've been around a long time, I have seen a lot of good women get promoted over, seen a lot of good women get discouraged," said Kwapnoski, in an interview with CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone. "I've seen a lot of bad men get promoted."

The lawsuit charges that three-quarters of the company's one million employees are female but women hold less than one-third of managerial positions.

Despite those statistics, Williams said "there is absolutely no basis for a finding of systemwide discrimination at Wal-Mart."

"Any company is going to have some percentage of people that are not happy," she said.

  • Francie Grace

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