Female Wal-Mart Employees File New Bias Case

Four months after the Supreme Court tossed out their national class action lawsuit, lawyers representing women who claimed that Wal-Mart Stores had discriminated against them filed a new lawsuit on Thursday that narrowed their claims to the California stores of the retail chain.

The lawyers promised an “armada” of lawsuits in the next six months making discrimination claims in other regions of the country, as opposed to nationwide. “The case we are starting today is the first of many,” said Brad Seligman, one of the lead plaintiff lawyers. He added that the new lawsuits are “what we like to call Wal-Mart 2.0.”

In rejecting the earlier lawsuit, the Supreme Court found that the plaintiffs, who had sought back pay for as many as 1.5 million women nationwide, had failed to establish that the legal and factual issues involving all those women had enough in common to be examined as a single class.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California contends that Wal-Mart’s discriminatory practices on pay and job promotion affected more than 90,000 women currently or formerly employed at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in four regions in California and neighboring states.

Wal-Mart dismissed the latest lawsuit as more of the same. “As we have said all along, these claims are unsuitable for class treatment because the situations of each individual are so different, and because the claims of these five plaintiffs are not representative of the thousands of women who work at Wal-Mart,” said Greg Rossiter, a company spokesman, in an e-mail.

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a lawyer for Wal-Mart, said, “It’s the same theory, in a different wardrobe, and I don’t think it’s going to work.” He added later in a statement, “These lawyers seem more intent on alleging classes for their publicity value than their legal virtue.”

In its June ruling in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the Supreme Court did not determine whether Wal-Mart had discriminated against any women. Rather, in a 5-4 vote, the court concluded that the lawsuit did not satisfy requirements that the group of people in the class had questions of law or fact in common.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said the case involved “literally millions of employment decisions.” The plaintiffs, he added, were required to point to “some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together.”

Joseph M. Sellers, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said the new lawsuit was specifically tailored to address the Supreme Court’s concerns. He said the plaintiffs were subject to the same decision makers and that there was some sort of overall animus directed at the women.

The lawsuit describes Wal-Mart’s California region as being governed by a “good old boy philosophy” where job opportunities were not posted, but were passed along word-of-mouth, usually to men. One California regional vice president, for instance, suggested that women did not seek management positions because of their “family commitments,” the lawsuit says.

A California district manager for Sam’s Club said he had paid a female employee less than a male counterpart because the male manager “supports his wife and two kids,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit suggests that such attitudes were pervasive companywide. At a 2004 meeting of district managers, for instance, Thomas Coughlin, then chief executive of Wal-Mart Stores, told the group that the key to their success was “single focus to get the job done.”

“Women tend to be better at information processing,” he said, according to the lawsuit. “Men are better at focus single objective.”

The origins of the lawsuit date to 1999 when Stephanie Odle was fired after complaining that she was discriminated against because of her sex. She said she had discovered that a male employee with the same job and less experience was making $23,000 a year more than she was.

The lead plaintiff in the case decided by the Supreme Court, Betty Dukes, is also the lead plaintiff in the case filed Thursday.

This article, “Female Wal-Mart Employees File New Bias Case,” originally appeared at The New York Times.