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Wal-Mart Sued in Tennessee by Women Workers Claiming Bias

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, was sued in federal court in Tennessee for allegedly discriminating against female workers in five southern states.

Three women sued in Nashville today, seeking to proceed on behalf of Wal-Mart’s female employees in the company’s Region 43, which comprises Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi. Wal-Mart paid women less than men in comparable jobs and blocked promotions for female workers, the women claim.

“Wal-Mart has maintained a pattern or practice of gender discrimination in compensation and promotion in Region 43,” according to the complaint. “Its compensation and promotion policies and practices have had a disparate impact not justified by business necessity on its female employees.”

The suit is the third regional gender-discrimination claim filed against Wal-Mart following the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year rejecting a nationwide class action. Women in California and Texas filed lawsuits last year.

The group action “is no more appropriate than the nationwide class that the Supreme Court has already rejected,” Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer, said today. “Wal-Mart has strong policies against discrimination.” The claims are “unsuitable for class treatment,” Hargrove said.

Seeking Changes

The Tennessee plaintiffs seek to represent current and former female workers from December 1998 to the present. They are seeking changes to Wal-Mart practices as well as back pay and punitive damages.

The named plaintiffs are former Wal-Mart workers Cheryl Phipps and Bobbi Millner and current employee Shawn Gibbons. All live in Tennessee, according to the complaint.

The nationwide lawsuit was filed by six current and former Wal-Mart workers alleging discrimination in pay and promotions. The women were granted so-called class status in 2004, allowing them to sue as a group. Wal-Mart appealed and in June 2011 the Supreme Court blocked the nationwide case from going forward.

The Supreme Court said lawyers for women suing Wal-Mart failed to point to a common corporate policy that led to gender discrimination at thousands of its U.S. stores. The plaintiffs’ lawyers said after the loss at the Supreme Court that they would file regional class actions alleging gender bias in pay and promotions at Wal-Mart.

The new lawsuit is Phipps v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 12-cv-01009, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee (Nashville). The Supreme Court case is Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 10-00277, U.S. Supreme Court (Washington).

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