retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that an effort by litigators to refile - albeit on a smaller scale - a gender discrimination class action lawsuit against Walmart could get stymied as a federal judge said he was "seriously concerned" that the new case as the same "fatal flaw" as the original, which got tossed by the US Supreme Court.

That original case, decided more than a year ago, was dismissed by the US Supreme Court because it said that there was no official company policy saying that men should be paid more than women or promoted more frequently.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco reportedly asked the plaintiffs' attorney, Brad Seligman, if it is true that essentially all personnel decisions are delegated to store managers and not coordinated by Walmart headquarters.

But Seligman replied that "plaintiffs now have evidence of bias by some of those actually in charge, the company's 20 California district managers and four regional managers, who approve all pay and promotional decisions.

"That evidence includes remarks by Walmart's then-chief executive, Thomas Coughlin, to district managers in 2004. According to the revised lawsuit, filed in October, Coughlin told them the key to success in choosing leaders was a 'single focus to get the job done,' and that 'Women tend to be better at information-processing. Men are better at focus'."

The Chronicle writes that Walmart's attorney, Theodore Boutrous, "dismissed Coughlin's statement as a 'stray remark' and said women complaining of discrimination can seek individual remedies, like the 2,000 employees who recently filed claims against Walmart with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission."
KC's View:
I think it is a lot easier to accept the idea that Coughlin's comment was a "stray remark," as opposed to reflective of a cultural bias against women, if you have testicles. Otherwise, not so much.

Personally, I've never bought to argument that there was not an ingrained, pro-male cultural bias at Walmart. I think that the company is doing its best to eradicate that bias now ... but to say it did not exist strikes me as stretching credibility way beyond the point of reason. I understand why the company has to defend itself, and I understand that every legal tool needs to be employed in that defense.