Women and Walmart - What the Supreme Court Decision Really Means

There's a lot of confusion about the upcoming Walmart v Dukes Supreme Court decision.

The biggest confusion of all is that this is not a decision regarding whether there was or wasn't discrimination against the women of Walmart, when the case was first brought forward by six female Walmart employees.

And that's a very different subject.

Because now we're talking about big business.  Giant sized business.  The biggest businesses of them all.

Which is why twenty companies - all with the same size and scope issues as Walmart - have written in support of Walmart's position.  And why the US Chamber of Commerce is arguing on Walmart's side as well.

Part of Walmart's legal argument is that they have policies against discrimination and, because of that, the corporation can't be held responsible for decisions made at the store level.  Those are local decisions.  Not corporate.

After all, with over 4400 stores and over 1.4 million employees in the US, alone, how could they ensure that such actions would not exist or occur?

Which makes it worth noting that Walmart isn't saying that bad decisions haven't been made or that discrimination hasn't possibly occurred.  Just that it's out of their control.

On the other hand, you have the plaintiffs.  It started with one woman, Betty Dukes, who was then joined by five others - who have now grown to represent a class of women in the hundreds of thousands who claim that they have been discriminated against based on their gender.  Since 1998.

Their argument is that the company systemically pays women less than men, gives them smaller raises and offers fewer opportunities for promotion. Unfortunately for Walmart, their own numbers tend to support that argument as the proportion of women in management drops substantially the higher up in the organization one looks.

If the case goes forward, the costs to Walmart will be in the billions.  That's even if, as is usually the case in class actions, it is settled out of court.

It also almost inevitably opens the door to other like-sized class actions against other employers.

So, even though this is about a point of law, it's worth going back to where this began.

Walmart is, evidently, discriminating against its employees.  Whether systemically or not, the fact is, it's happening.  And, for a company that was founded on the principals of and prides itself on the world-class systems that other organizations worldwide have adopted, it's a bit difficult to argue that in this one arena, there are no monitoring or enforcement systems in place.

Whatever the ruling, it will be landmark.  More immediately, though, what are you doing in your organization to ensure that you have the doors open to all the talent available...no matter the gender? 

(Originally published on Technorati.)