Wal-Mart suit over sex bias carries high stakes
•The case began nearly a decade ago with one woman, Stephanie Odle, who was upset to discover that the top manager at the Sam’s Club where she worked as an assistant store manager had been administering a promotion test to the three male assistant store managers but not to her.
That came after Odle discovered that a male assistant manager at a previous Sam’s Club where she worked had been earning $23,000 more a year than she was. When she complained, she said, the district manager responded, “Stephanie, that assistant manager has a family and two children to support.”
“I told him, ‘I’m a single mother, and I have a 6-month-old child to support,’ ” she recalled in an interview.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs recruited Odle after obtaining data showing that just a third of Wal-Mart’s managers were women, even though two-thirds of its employees were. The lawyers wanted to enlist a Wal-Mart employee whose complaints about pay and promotions would be a base from which to build a broader sex discrimination case.
Odle’s story, along with those of six other women, became the seed of the 2001 lawsuit that accused Wal-Mart of systematic discrimination against women in pay and promotions. No one expected it to become such a drawn-out battle.In its appeal, Wal-Mart said the 9th Circuit’s decision had contradicted earlier decisions of the Supreme Court and other appeals courts, and had wrongly relieved the plaintiffs of the burden of proving individual injury