Wal-Mart Found not Responsible for Systematic Social Discrimination Against Women

NPR posted a news update that the Associated Press reported today that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Wal-Mart in a large sex discrimination lawsuit on behalf of about 1.5 million female employees. The women claimed that Wall Mart systematically discriminated against them based on their sex, but the US Supreme Court did not believe that Wal-Mart was capable of consistently discriminating against all women just for the reason of being a woman. The female employees however argue that allowing local supervisors discretion over employment matters, leads to consistent discrimination against women. The majority said:

“The basic theory of their case is that a strong and uniform ‘corporate culture’ permits bias against women to infect, perhaps subconsciously, the discretionary decision-making of each one of Wal-Mart’s thousands of managers — thereby making every woman at the company the victim of one common discriminatory practice.”

However, five out of the nine justices concurred that there were no grounds for the class action lawsuit. However, if female employees had won, they would have received tens of billions of dollars in back pay and damages. However, the Supreme Court stated,

“Without some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members claims for relief will produce a common answer to the crucial question why was I disfavored.”

The problem here seems to be in the realm of social psychology and statistics (in this case the “glue”). When you look at wages of males and females at a giant corporation like Wal-Mart you can collect some very strong statistical evidence that indeed there is systematic discrimination against women. A simple student’s t-test comparing wages of males to females (taught in Intro to Stats) would show extremely convincing evidence of systematic discrimination, especially when conducted using a data set containing 3 million Wal-Mart employees (1.5 million females, and 1.5 million males). It would be a simple number to calculate. The question is whether the fact that our social environment systematically discriminates against women is Wal-Mart’s fault or responsibility? And the next question is whether we move women’s equality forward by legally enforcing it or by waiting for society to change on its own. What is your opinion?

About Claire

I grew up in both the Netherlands and the US. When I moved to America at age 10 I was confronted with conflicting social constructs of gender and class. As a student of the social and cognitive sciences, I gained a greater understanding of how human decision-making can lead to unintended system-wide consequences in the interdependent world we live in, especially when you throw stereotyping into the mix. Having struggled as both a poor and female American citizen, I am quite aware of what it means to blame a victim for their circumstances. I feel that I have a voice, and responsibility, to stand up for those who are currently silent.

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