July 3, 2004

Behind the Scenes into a Class Action

*Updated*

Yet another must-read article concerning the class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart, this one taking an indepth behind the scenes look into the case and what has brought it about.

Wal-Mart's challenger used to lengthy battles

Class action: A Berkeley, Calif., lawyer relishes leading the biggest workplace discrimination case ever.

By David Streitfeld
Los Angeles Times

Originally published July 3, 2004

The conference room in Brad Seligman's Berkeley, Calif., law office is a forlorn place.

Its two windows look out onto walls. The table is scratched, the carpet dull. An air duct across the ceiling adds to the feeling of claustrophobia.

For three years, Seligman has been suing Wal-Mart Stores Inc., accusing it of discriminating against female employees. When the time came for the first big meeting with the company's well-heeled lawyers, he insisted it be done in this room.

"I wanted them to see we weren't about money, that this case wasn't just about money," Seligman says. "We brought it because Wal-Mart needs to change."

[...]

This is particularly interesting, in several ways:

[...]

The origin of the Wal-Mart case goes back a decade. That's when two New Mexico lawyers, Stephen Tinkler and Merit Bennett, took on a sexual harassment complaint involving two women at a local Sam's Club, a Wal-Mart subsidiary.

In 1997, the partners won a $2 million verdict. That produced a flood of new harassment lawsuits against Wal-Mart, but prevailing never became easy.

"Wal-Mart had unlimited resources. It would fight to the hilt," Bennett says. "Maybe we were naive."

Still, after years of litigation, the lawyers felt they had amassed a pile of useful evidence about the retailer's employment practices that suggested something deeper and more pervasive than harassment.

[...]

The bigger the class, "the heavier burden we have to convince a judge there is a common problem across the system," Seligman said. "Defendants always argue, as they did in this case, that each store is different."

Trying to prove they weren't was the role of Marc Bendick, an economist and consultant in Washington. Using Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data, Bendick put together a portrait of what the top 20 discount retailers' work forces looked like.

Women, he found, dominate retail - and not just at the cash register; K-Mart, J.C. Penney, Sears and other companies are run by management teams that are, on average, 56 percent female.

Then the lawyers took a close look at Wal-Mart's recent EEOC reports. No matter which way Bendick sliced it, Wal-Mart was different: Only 34 percent of its managers were women.

[...]

Read the entire article, here.

*Update*:

Additional information, concerning what is referenced with the above mentioned article, may be obtained directly from the official Wal-Mart Class Website [via Joe Hill Dispatch: Wal-Mart Beat -- ... journal of Walmart news, analysis and activism].

*Note*: last updated on July 3, 2004 at 2:48 PM [EDT].

Posted by Morgan on July, 3 2004 at 02:24 PM