Friday, July 15, 2011

Walmart women

You can interpret the recent Supreme Court ruling on Wal-Mart v. Dukes, where the 5-4 majority denied the right of female workers at Wal-Mart to certify as a class in a class-action law-suit as a pro-business, but I see it rather as an attack on the rights of women workers in general. In the CSWA, we recognize that overt discrimination is not longer where battles are being fought, but rather the pernicious biases of individuals that affect everything from workplace climates to hiring decisions. From the article cited above:
Writing for the court majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that in order to sue as a single class, the women would have to point to a discriminatory policy that affected all of them, and they could not do that. Indeed, Scalia noted that the company has a specific corporate policy against discrimination.
To which I can only respond that a written policy is useless if it is not implemented.

The case for the Walmart women relied on statistics, such as the fact "that women held two-thirds of the lowest-level hourly jobs at Wal-Mart and only one-third of the management jobs, and that women overall were paid on average $1.16 an hour less than men in the same jobs, although the women had more seniority and higher performance ratings." As a scientists, particularly astronomers, we know that statistics often tell the real story rather than any one object. In the case of discriminatory hiring and promotion cases, it's easy to point to a myriad of reasons why any one particular person was overlooked for a promotion or fired or what have you. It's much harder to fight individual cases, which can in the end be blamed on special circumstatnces, than to make a case for an entire group as a whole.

It's notable that all the female justices dissented with the majority opinion. They, at least recognize that unconscious bias is real:
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed to previous Supreme Court decisions holding that a companywide policy against discrimination can be undermined where, as alleged here, local supervisors have so much discretion that decisions are made without standards, often on the basis of biases unrecognized even by the supervisors themselves, for example, assuming that a female employee with a family would not be willing to relocate for a promotion.

Suffice it to say that I will be avoiding shopping at Walmart from now on.

-by Hannah Jang-Condell

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