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Wal-Mart Sued by Wisconsin Women for Gender Bias

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Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, was sued by five Wisconsin women who claim the company denied them and other female employees equal pay and equal opportunities.

“Women at Wal-Mart were told by management that women deserved less pay and fewer promotions than men because men had families to support,” Jim Kaster of Minneapolis-based Nichols Kaster PLLP, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement announcing the filing.

Their complaint, on behalf of workers at stores in parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, was filed in federal court in Madison, Wisconsin, on Feb. 20. The same day, a federal judge in Nashville, Tennessee, dismissed a similar case as untimely.

Those cases and two more like them were filed after a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision rejecting a national gender-discrimination class action, or group lawsuit. The high court’s majority in that case found “no convincing proof” of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.

“A Tennessee court last week came to the same conclusion as a Texas court ruling last October -- that these class action claims are not appropriate,” Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, said today in an e-mailed statement.

Paid More

Sandra Ladik, the lead plaintiff in the Wisconsin case, worked at the company’s Portage store from 1992 to 2006, according to the complaint.

She claims that while serving as a maintenance department manager, she learned that a male co-worker, whom she had trained to become a maintenance supervisor, was being paid more than she was. Ladik had more experience and responsibility than her colleague, she alleged.

She and the other women who joined in her case are seeking to proceed on behalf of all women now working in the stores in Wal-Mart’s region 14, or who have worked there since Dec. 26, 1998. They are seeking compensatory awards of back-pay, front-pay and punitive damages, plus other relief.

A federal judge in Dallas threw out another of the regional cases in October. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor also concluded the plaintiffs’ claims were untimely. Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the case in which the Supreme Court issued its decision, is still pending in San Francisco federal court. A fifth federal case was filed last year in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Individual Claims

“We’ve said all along that if someone believes they have been treated unfairly, they deserve to have their timely, individual, claims heard in court,” Hargrove said in his e-mailed statement.

“Wal-Mart has been successful in making technical legal arguments preventing courts from reaching the merits of women’s claims, and we expect more of these arguments here,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Kaster, said. “Nevertheless, we hope that the court in Wisconsin will, after this long period of waiting, finally allow their claims to be heard by a jury.”

The case is Ladik v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 13-cv-123, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin (Madison).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in the Chicago federal courthouse at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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