The nation's largest private employer is also allegedly the nation's leader in treating women unfairly. Six women accuse the retail giant Wal-Mart of favoring men over women in pay and promotions. The six women sued in June 2001, and last week both sides finished gathering evidence and submitted it to the judge in San Francisco.
That judge in San Francisco isn't expected to make any sort of ruling on this case until this summer. As we told you in June 2001, this is the largest sex discrimination suit ever, and it's spearheaded by a Lubbock woman. She was fired from the Lubbock Sam's Club for reasons that are still unclear to her.
We first introduced you to Stephanie Odle a year-and-a-half ago when she arrived home after filing the sex-bias suit in San Francisco. Odle is now a manager for a different company in Norman, Oklahoma, but picking up the pieces after being fired by Wal-Mart hasn't been easy. "It was a month before my daughter's birthday and 2 months before Christmas. I'd been with them for 8 years. This was all I knew," says Odle.
Odle says her encounters with discrimination started in 1996 when she submitted a plan for saving the tire shop money. Her idea was rejected and then another male manager submitted the exact same plan. "He came in and said, 'Next week I want you to start closing the tire shop a half hour earlier at 8 p.m.' I said, 'Well, I've already submitted a similar plan and they told me no.' And he was like, 'Hum, I guess it's a man thing,'" says Odle.
Over the course of the next few years, Odle says there were a number of other incidents. She also says she was making $20,000 less than a male manager who held the same position. Then, she was suddenly fired in 1999 for a technicality in training that still hasn't been clearly explained to her. "I told him to remember my name because this wasn't over. And he said, 'Do you know how many people try to sue Wal-Mart everyday?'" says Odle.
Odle's case is getting national attention. The USA Today said this week, 'At the pinnacle of Wal-Mart's success, the retail empire has come under blistering attack.'
Ironically Wal-Mart is the nation's largest employer of women and has 1.3 million workers worldwide. Wal-Mart maintains it has no policies or practices that discriminate. It says it believes in putting the best qualified people in the job openings it has, but Odle insists that's a lie. "They have to be held accountable. They have to change. I look at my then 3-year-old daughter and I think she should never have to go through this in her life. How far have we come, to be right back where we are," says Odle.
The lawsuit allows for claims going back to 1998. If the judge certifies the lawsuit as a class-action suit, it could potentially represent more than 500,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees.