Time for Walmart to Settle Its Massive Class-Action Discrimination Suit -- Now

Last Updated Apr 27, 2010 5:19 PM EDT

A massive sex-discrimination class-action lawsuit Walmart (WMT) has kept at bay for nearly a decade got the green light to proceed to trial this week. This means it's time for the company to settle up, before the nightly news starts dishing up an endless parade of women telling Walmart horror stories.

Walmart's main strategy was to challenge the idea that "women who worked for Walmart" could be a certified class in the class action. Their laughable contention: each of their stores is an independent business. Women who felt they experienced discrimination at Walmart should sue the individual store -- as if the world's largest retailer doesn't have consistent chainwide policies, training manuals, or manager education.

Given Walmart's more than two million employees, the case is likely the largest sex-discrimination suit in history. Another argument the company made in opposing class certification was that the suit was too large to defend. That ought to be a red flag that this needs a quick resolution, now that it's prepping for trial.

For its part, Walmart celebrated part of the court's ruling that may limit the number of women who can participate in the suit, and reaffirmed its stance that it "fosters female leadership."

Walmart may soon be in a courtroom trying to prove it plays fairly with women workers. Now that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has cleared the suit for trial, Walmart is exposed to potentially billions in claims for back pay and penalties if a court finds merit in the women workers' claims that they were paid less and promoted less often. Worse, the trial would likely stretch on for months, resulting in a steady parade of negative publicity for Walmart.

Given the negative public opinion that's out there regarding Walmart -- some towns actively fight to keep the retailer from opening nearby -- that's the last thing the company needs, at a time when its sales are basically flat. Walmart settled a smaller discrimination suit just before it hit trial last month for a paltry $12 million. It needs to take the same approach with this whopper.

Photo via Flickr user bsabarnowl
  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include Allbusiness.com and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.

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