No Discount for Walmart’s Discrimination

Wal-mart parking lot
(walmartmovie / CC BY 2.0)

After years of discriminatory practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act at one of its locales, Walmart faces a big payback: The retail giant has to dish out more than $11.7 million in back wages and compensatory damages to settle a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

From 1998 to February 2005, according to the EEOC, Walmart’s London, Kentucky distribution center failed to hire qualified women applicants for warehouse jobs while actively hiring men with less qualifications. The applicants were told that certain positions “were not suitable for women,” and that Walmart hired mainly 18- to 25-year-old males for “order- filling positions.” Shades of the 1950s!

The recent verdict is hardly the end of Walmart’s legal troubles. The company is involved in an even larger sex discrimination suit initiated by Walmart employee Betty Dukes and six other women workers in 2001. It has since grown to include two million current and former employees, making it the largest sexual discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history.

Despite its track record, Walmart was astonishingly featured on the National Association for Female Executives’ (NAFE) list of “Top 50 Companies for Executive Women” in 2010. (Apparently, women at Walmart make up 60 percent of employees and 27 percent of executives.) Walmart also made Working Mother’s “20 Best Companies for Multicultural Women,” with the company being praised for setting annual goals for recruiting and retaining diverse candidates and cutting bonuses of officers and managers if they don’t meet diversity goals. I guess Walmart’s CEO must have met those goals, because he didn’t get cut: His annual bonus was 3,300 times that of a front-line employee.

What’s going on here? Is Walmart trying to make up for its past  discrimination? Does it put on a good show of diversity to cover up the fact that it pays such low wages (but not to top execs) and is so stingy with health insurance? Walmart has faced plenty of other accusations as well: Sexual harassment, age discrimination, employees sexually assaulting children customers, using sweatshops, breaking child labor laws, abusing undocumented illegal immigrant workers and more than 70 class-action lawsuits involving wage and hour violations are just a few examples of the other antics Walmart has been up to in the past decade.

Wouldn’t it just be easier to pay fair and play square, Wal-Mart? A feminist can dream….

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Alexandra was a 2010 editorial intern at Ms. who helped launch the Ms. Blog. She is from Climax, Minnesota and has written for the Grand Forks Herald, the University Chronicle, the St. Cloud Times and Ms. She is now copy-editing for Live Nation/Ticketmaster, and is looking for employment in nonprofits, journalism/PR and/or women's rights. Check out her resume at!