Wal-Mart Wins, Women Lose

Last Updated Jun 20, 2011 12:44 PM EDT

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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    Jill Schlesinger, CFP®, is the Emmy-nominated, Business Analyst for CBS News. She covers the economy, markets, investing and anything else with a dollar sign on TV, radio (including her nationally syndicated radio show), the web and her blog, "Jill on Money." Prior to her second career at CBS, Jill spent 14 years as the co-owner and Chief Investment Officer for an independent investment advisory firm. She began her career as a self-employed options trader on the Commodities Exchange of New York, following her graduation from Brown University.