By now you have surely heard that the Supreme Court has denied the Wal-Mart class action suit, brought on behalf of some 1.5 million female workers, on grounds of gender descrimination. The ruling was not a decision based on whether Wal-Mart had discriminated against the women (more below), but that they could not proceed as a class because, you know, the class was just too big for them to have had common experiences. In effect: the judges found that the class was too big to prevail. From the New York Times:
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said the women suing Wal-Mart could not show that they would receive “a common answer to the crucial question, why was I disfavored?” He noted that the company, the nation’s largest private employer, operated some 3,400 stores, had an expressed policy forbidding discrimination and granted local managers substantial discretion.
“On its face, of course, that is just the opposite of a uniform employment practice that would provide the commonality needed for a class action,” Justice Scalia wrote. “It is a policy against having uniform employment practices.”
The case involved “literally millions of employment decisions,” Justice Scalia wrote, and the plaintiffs were required to point to “some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together.”
Now I’m not a lawyer, though I am married to one and have raised another, so I can’t get into the law here, but it’s interesting that the court was divided not only along ideological lines, but gender lines as well. And what interests me were the plaintiff’s (Betty Dukes et. al) complaints. Let’s check what Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, wrote a while ago on Huffington Post:
Ms. Dukes was an enthusiastic Wal-Mart employee, eager to work her way up from store “greeter” to a position in management. But after years passed watching male colleagues move up and finding no opportunities for her own advancement, she discussed her concerns with a district manager. The result was a pattern of retaliation that eventually led to a demotion and pay cut — and the biggest sex discrimination case in history.
It turns out Ms. Dukes wasn’t alone. When a woman with a master’s degree who had worked at Wal-Mart for five years asked her department manager why she was paid less than a 17-year-old boy who had just been hired, she was informed, “You just don’t have the right equipment… You aren’t male, so you can’t expect to be paid the same.” Another female employee was informed that a male employee got a bigger raise then she did because he had “a family to support.” Another was told that men would always be paid more than women at Wal-Mart because “God made Adam first, so women would always be second to men.”
… In every category of salaried management at the company, women are significantly underrepresented and are paid consistently less. To move up in Wal-Mart, employees need a “tap on the shoulder” from upper-level management, which is overwhelmingly male and stubbornly protective of a corporate culture that demeans women.
Pissed off? I am. Clearly those two weren’t the only ones with a major beef. And here’s the thing: this stuff cuts to the core of one the reasons why, for women, our career and life decisions are so much more difficult. We’ve been promised an equal world, opportunities our mothers never had, along with the expectations that we can sail along blissfully, the way the menfolk have done for generations. And yet. There’s the maternal wall: women are promoted less, given fewer challenging assignments, once they have kids, for fear that they are less serious about their careers. And if they don’t have kids? On the one hand, there’s the assumption that they might (see above) or that, if motherhood isn’t in their sights, well, they are weird. And if they are ambitious?! God forbid.
And then, there’s this: despite the strides we women have made over the last several decades, we’re still stuck in a world designed by and for workers (as in the case of Wal-Mart, with the right anatomy) who have someone at home to take care of business. But who lives like that anymore? Do you? Will you ever? And why don’t we talk about it? I was particularly taken by my cyber-friend Morra Aarons-Mele’s post yesterday in HuffPo where, prompted by a mother-daughter panel at the Worklife Legacy Awards in New York, she got into a discussion about work-life conflict — and the fact that we women don’t talk about it nearly enough — and feel vulnerable when we do. What I liked best was this:
We work in a male system. To paraphrase Anne Weisberg, it’s the dynamic between men and women in the workplace that’s the cause of so much work-life conflict. And we don’t want to be bitches so we play along with the system and pretend like everything is OK. And before you say, working for women is way worse than working for men… I went to girls’ school. When you were in class, all girls, and you got a better grade or knew more than another girl, you weren’t a bitch you were just smart. When you got into the co-ed world and one-upped your fellow women, you were a bitch. We work in the world men who aren’t primary caregivers built, and we feel we have to play by their rules.
Like. We’re in a state of transition, trying our damnedest to take advantage of all the opportunities that were never there a generation ago, in an economy where we will always have to work, while still navigating a workplace and a societal culture that hasn’t kept pace. What Shannon and I think is that it’s all a work in progress, and if we’re going to make any sort of change — we need to keep the conversation going.