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SAN FRANCISCO - Lawyers for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Wednesday asked a federal judge to break up a sexual discrimination lawsuit that seeks to represent 1.6 million current and former female employees against the world's largest retailer.
During the daylong court hearing, Wal-Mart argued for dismantling the lawsuit into separate class actions against each of its 3,473 U.S. stores. The hearing was held to determine whether a complaint brought by six women working in Wal-Mart's California stores should be broadened to include virtually all of the company's female employees dating back to 1998.
As reported, the suit alleges that Wal-Mart set up a system that frequently pays its female workers less than their male counterparts for comparable jobs and bypasses women for promotions. Wal-Mart contends the suit ignores thousands of women who earn more than their male counterparts, and doesn't consider factors that cause one job to pay more than another.
In arguing against the broadening of the suit, Wal-Mart says that its 3,473 stores, including Sam's Club, operate with so much autonomy that they are like independent businesses with different management styles that affect the way women are paid and promoted.
Pursuing the allegations as a single class action "is absolutely unmanageable on a nationwide basis," Wal-Mart attorney Paul Grossman told the Associated Press. "It would require a mind-boggling number of individual determinations."
If Wal-Mart faces a single class action spanning the entire country, the company will seek testimony from 4,000 store managers, resulting in a trial that would last 13 years, the company said.