Wal-Mart Wins Request in Bias Case

By Karen Gullo and Margaret Cronin Fisk
Bloomberg News
Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wal-Mart Stores won its request for a review of a court ruling that allowed as many as 2 million current and former female workers to proceed with the biggest sex-discrimination case in the nation's history.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco yesterday granted Wal-Mart's request to rehear the case. In December 2007, a three-judge panel upheld a lower-court ruling granting class-action, or group, status to the women. Wal-Mart sought a rehearing before a larger panel of judges.

The workers accuse Wal-Mart of paying women less than men and giving them fewer promotions. The 2001 lawsuit was originally filed in San Francisco by six women seeking to represent other employees on claims they were owed back pay and other compensation. Wal-Mart says it doesn't discriminate against women.

"We look forward to presenting our arguments to a larger group of judges and are hopeful they will decide the case should not proceed as a class action," Jeff Gearhart, Wal-Mart's general counsel, said in an e-mailed statement.

A federal judge in 2004 expanded the lawsuit to include as many as 1.6 million current and former workers after the women's lawyers said evidence showed that Wal-Mart's policies discriminated against women nationwide. Attorneys for the workers estimate the number of women who may be covered by the claims is 2 million.

"We don't have any reason to believe that the outcome will be any different," said Joseph Sellers, a lawyer representing the women. "We continue to be very confident in our position."

Wal-Mart, which has more than 1.4 million U.S. employees, agreed to pay as much as $640 million in December to settle 63 federal and state class actions claiming the company cheated hourly workers and forced them to work through breaks.

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