The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, a sex discrimination class action against the retail giant, on March 29. AFJ’s Justice Watch blog will highlight specific aspects of the case in daily installments between now and the date of oral arguments. Today’s installment introduces the personal stories of Wal-Mart employees Betty Dukes and Edith Arana. Dukes and Arana were enthusiastic employees who suffered the effects of the company’s discriminatory practices.
When Betty Dukes started at Wal-Mart, she was energetically committed to advancing within the company. She dreamed of working her way up from a $5-an-hour part-time cashier position into corporate management. Instead, she toiled for several frustrating years with very few opportunities for advancement. After discussing her concerns with a district manager, store managers retaliated against her. They wrote her up for returning late from breaks despite the fact that male colleagues evaded punishment after doing the same thing or after failing to clock out at all. Dukes later received a demotion and pay cut for asking a colleague to let her make change from a cash register, even though this was a common employee practice. The financial strain forced Dukes to move in with her mother.
Dukes has said she hopes this case will change Wal-Mart’s practice of blocking women from entering management, and will ensure women receive equal pay. A Baptist minister, she put her “Betty vs. Goliath” struggle in biblical terms, stating that, “David had five stones but only needed one.”
Edith Arana accepted a $7-an-hour job at Wal-Mart after 10 years in retail because she believed that Wal-Mart was “a family-based company” where “you can come in as a cashier, and the sky is the limit.” Arana often took on heavy workloads, was commended for going “beyond what is expected” and was praised for doing “an outstanding job filling in where she is needed—anywhere, anytime.” Nonetheless, management consistently denied her promotions and gave them to men with less experience.
Arana also tried to enlist in Wal-Mart’s assistant manager training program, but was consistently denied. A store manager promised to recommend Arana for the program but reneged after she was forced to take sick leave after a car accident. This missed opportunity became particularly important when Arana became the sole breadwinner for her husband and three children after her husband developed liver cancer. Arana felt that no matter how well she performed, store management would not allow her to advance because she was a woman. Eventually, her heavy workload led a doctor to order her to take leaves of absence. Arana called herself “destroyed and devastated” by her experience with Wal-Mart.
Dukes and Arana are two of the named plaintiffs in this case whose stories are representative of the many employees who suffered as a result of pervasive sex discrimination at Wal-Mart.
For more information, click here to download AFJ’s special report on Wal-Mart v. Dukes.