SAN FRANCISCO — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was accused Tuesday of rampant discrimination against female employees in a federal lawsuit against the nation’s largest private employer.
The suit, which seeks to represent as many as 500,000 current and former women workers, claims the company “systematically discriminates against its women employees,” said Brad Seligman, one of several attorneys on the case.
If granted class-action status, the suit would become the nation’s largest gender-based discrimination case against a private employer. The plaintiffs are seeking to change the company’s alleged discriminatory practices. They have not specified how much money they are seeking.
Wal-Mart, which also operates Sam’s Club, denied the allegations.
“Wal-Mart does not condone discrimination of any kind,” said Bill Wertz, a spokesman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based chain. “Women hold positions of significant responsibility at Wal-Mart.”
The suit, filed in San Francisco’s U.S. District Court, alleges there are nearly double the number of women in management at competing retail stores and that male Wal-Mart workers get higher pay than women for the same duties. It says the retailing giant passes over women for promotions and training, and retaliates against women who register complaints.
Three-fourths of the company’s one million employees are female but women hold less than one-third of managerial positions.
Micki Miller Earwood, a former personnel manager at an Urbana, Ohio, Wal-Mart, said she recently was terminated after complaining about what she said was discriminatory treatment.
“Wal-Mart is not a place I would ever hope for my daughter to work at,” said Earwood, one of six plaintiffs in the suit.
Wertz said women are well represented at the company – the chief executive of walmart.com is a woman, as is one of three executive vice presidents of Sam’s Club, he said. Women also hold high positions in the company’s labor relations and legal departments.
In all, Wertz said, women hold 37 percent of 55,000 management positions.
He also said that Wal-Mart does not count store department managers as management, while other retailers might to inflate their figures.
Betty Dukes, another plaintiff, has been working at the Wal-Mart in Pittsburg for seven years. She said she has only ascended to cashier while her similarly qualified male counterparts have moved substantially higher up the ladder.
“There’s a great divide between the men and women at Wal-Mart,” Dukes said.