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LOS ANGELES -- A group of women claming they were taken to strip clubs on business trips, demeaned as "little Janie Qs" by senior managers, paid less than men for the same jobs, and denied promotions filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart in federal court in San Francisco yesterday.
Though the world's largest retailer disputes the allegations, Reuters reports that if a judge upholds the request, the lawsuit would become the largest employment discrimination case ever brought. To win it they must prove that discrimination at Wal-Mart is companywide.
The documents, detailing more than 100 complaints by women, are part of a nearly two-year-old lawsuit against the Bentonville, Ark. retail chain, the nation's largest private employer. A hearing is set for July 25 in which attorneys for the women will ask a federal judge to elevate the seven-plaintiff suit into a nationwide, class-action sex discrimination case.
"Women are treated as second-class employees at Wal-Marts from Florida to Alaska," said Brad Seligman, a plaintiffs' attorney. The suit, which seeks to represent as many as 1.5 million current and former female employees, charges that Wal-Mart and its Sam's Club subsidiary systematically discriminates against female employees across the nation by denying them promotions and equal pay.
A Wal-Mart spokesman was quoted as saying that the plaintiff's lawyers were trying to tar the entire chain with what amount to isolated incidents at most. "That is so contrary to Wal-Mart culture," company spokesman Jay Allen said yesterday of the strip club allegations.
"You can't even expense alcohol on company business, but that's not to say that there's not some knucklehead out there who has done something like that, but it is not in any way, shape or form condoned by Wal-Mart."
According to the plaintiffs, woman make up more than two-thirds of Wal-Mart's hourly employees but hold only one-third of store management jobs and have been paid less than men with the same seniority every year since 1997. Wal-Mart employs a million workers in 3,300 stores nationwide.