Supreme Court Case Could Affect Most Businesses With Employees

It’s an issue involving whether the justices should permit certification of the largest class action employment lawsuit in United States history. The dispute is against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. over alleged gender bias in pay and promotions. Arguments in the case are scheduled Tuesday morning and ruling can be expected by late June.

If the class action passes, hundreds of thousands of women could join in the largest discrimination claim of its kind. Tens of billions of dollars or more in damages.

The court case is among the biggest of the current term, and could establish binding standards over liability involving companies large and small.

It started with six women from California, unknown to each other, initially.

“I’m a fighter if nothing else, and so are all the other women that are involved,” Christine Kwapnoski, one of the original plaintiffs.

Kwapnoski, 46, started at Sam’s Club retail warehouse, part of the Wal-Mart brand, in 1986, relocated to a store in Concord, California. When 2000 rolled-around, she was the longest tenured hourly employee at the store, but claims she was being paid “virtually the same” as male associates with half her experience.

She was promoted in 2001, two weeks after the lawsuit was filed, and is still at the company.

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Joseph Sellers, explains that there’s a “corporate culture” at Wal-Mart, where female associates are treated as second class employees, and that the company’s “strong, centralized structure fosters or facilitates gender stereotyping and discrimination,” which flows down to individual stores.