The Wal-Mart v. Dukes case carries on in a different form as a federal district court denied a motion to dismiss a class action suit of California women alleging pay and employment discrimination. The named plaintiffs represent more than 100,000 current or former women employees of California Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores. The class includes women who worked at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores and were subject to pay and promotion discrimination at any time since December 26, 1998.
Normally this would be considered a good thing–hundreds of thousands of women can move forward with claims of pay and promotion discrimination that they’ve spent over a decade battling despite every obstructionist strategy thrown at them by Wal-Mart. And it is. Somewhat.
The victory underscores just how massive the problem of pay and promotion inequality is. The California case represents the claims of a lot of women, but only a fraction of the total number affected by the Walton family’s discriminatory and unfair business practices. This smaller class is a result of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision last year dismissing a nationwide class action lawsuit against the retailer for the same claims in what is now known euphemistically as the “too big to sue” case. For the rest of the women across the country who have faced similar unlawful conduct, they are still waiting for their day in court.
And the case is far from won by the California plaintiffs. The decision simply allows plaintiffs an opportunity to present evidence to support their claims and is not a decision on the merits. But it comes at a time when the gender pay gap is once again making news and on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. Recent analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the National Partnership for Women & Families shows that the gender-based wage gap affects women across the country and breaks that data down to congressional districts to better make the case to legislators to act.
In 97 percent of congressional districts – 423 out of 435 districts – the median yearly pay for women is less than the median yearly pay for men. “It is stunning and deeply troubling to learn that the wage gap affects women in nearly every congressional district in the country. Women and their families are losing critical income for food, gas, rent, health insurance and more due to a punishing gender-based wage gap that has plagued this country for decades,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership. “These new data should be a clear and resounding wake-up call for all lawmakers who have the power to pass legislation that would help close the gap and promote economic security for the women and families in their districts.”
Nationally, full-time working women are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to full-time working men, amounting to $11,084 each year, according to Census data. The congressional districts with the largest gender-based, cents-on-the-dollar pay differences are found in Louisiana, Virginia, New Jersey and West Virginia. The two districts with the largest gap in wages are in southern Louisiana; women there are paid just 61 cents for every dollar paid to men.
Simply put, we need a fix and we need it now.
That’s where the Paycheck Fairness Act comes in. The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and establish stronger workplace protections for women. In the last two Congresses, the U.S. House of Representatives passed it, but it fell two votes short of moving forward in the Senate in 2010. It was reintroduced in the current Congress but blocked by a procedural vote in June of this year.
“The wage gap is taking a tremendous toll on women and their families throughout the country,” Ness added. “The gap persists across industries, education levels and, as these data make clear, it spans the geography of our country. It’s time for all members of Congress to take a hard look at the damage being done in their districts and commit to promoting fair wages by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.”
With women’s legal remedies hamstrung by a hostile Roberts Court, legislative action is the answer to addressing pay and employment discrimination. Even if the women in California are successful in their claims against Wal-Mart, the amount of damages the retailer will be forced to pay will still pale in comparison to profits. And they will do little good to help those women and their families survive the day-to-day. That’s why we need Congress to act on pay equity. Without a legislative fix women and their families will continue to be short-changed and, thanks to the Roberts Court, those who do have the will to fight this unfair and unlawful treatment have very little recourse for now.