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Wal-Mart Wins, Women Lose

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in favor of Wal-Mart in its fight to block a massive sex discrimination lawsuit on behalf of women who work there. The decision had nothing to do with the merits of the case, but was a ruling on whether the case could proceed as a class action.

The court found that the plaintiffs didn't have enough in common to pool all of their claims into a single case. That means that instead of a single case involving a potential 1.6 million women who have worked at Wal-Mart over the past decade, the six women that originally filed the suit are on their own to pursue their claims of unfair pay and advancement opportunities at the mega-retailer.

And speaking of Wal-Mart, the decision is a BIG win and WMT stock is trading higher on the news. Now, the pressure is off to settle a massive law suit (estimates of potential costs were in the billions of dollars), and instead, the company may fight or settle each individual claim based on the perceived risk/cost of the case.

The original case alleged that Wal-Mart paid female workers significantly less than their male counterparts and offered them fewer opportunities for advancement; and that the company's internal policies fostered a discriminatory environment.

A few facts about where women stand in the workplace, from my friends at Catalyst:

  • The median annual income for full-time, year-round women workers in 2009 was $36,278 compared to men's $47,127
  • Women earned 77 percent as much as men in 2009, based on the median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers
  • Based on the median weekly earnings for full-time workers, (which excludes self-employed), in 2010 women earned 81.2 percent as much as men
  • In 1979, women earned 62.3% as much as men
  • The earnings difference between women and men varies with age, with younger women more closely approaching pay equity than older women (2009, median weekly earnings), for full-time wage and salary workers
For my sisters out there, things are still grim. Here's a little career advice for women from workplace coach Ellen Gordon Reeves:

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