Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How A Massachusetts Woman Won $2 milllion in A Gender Discrimination Suit Vs. Wal-Mart

By Claudia Ricci

If you believe Justice Scalia, who wrote for the Supreme Court's majority opinion in Monday's Wal-Mart ruling, there is "no convincing proof of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy."

Tell that to all the women who have worked for Wal-Mart. The company has gotten away with its discriminatory culture by playing it both ways: it has a policy on the books barring discrimination but it leaves individual store managers operating in a culture where discrimination is widely accepted.

One case in a small town near me stands out -- and I learned of it first from my own mother, who is acquainted with the family involved.

In 2007, pharmacist Cynthia Haddad, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts,won a $2 million lawsuit against Wal-Mart, where she had worked for 10 years. In that case, Massachusetts lawyer and employment practices expert Julie Moore testified on behalf of Haddad, suggesting that Wal-Mart's policies and practices "contributed to the gender discrimination that culminated in this pharmacy manager's termination."

The retailer fired Haddad claiming that a fraudulent prescription had been filled when she left the pharmacy unattended.

Haddad was able to show that Wal-Mart had axed her because she had demanded that they pay her the same manager's salary that her male colleagues earned. Oh, and about that fraudulent prescription? It was filed a year and a half before Haddad was fired -- she'd never even been told about her so-called mistake.

In 2009, Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court upheld the verdict in this precedent-setting case.

The idea that an individual woman could sue the wildly powerful Wal-Mart and WIN $2 million is one heck of an inspiring story in a small Massachusetts town. Haddad, the mother of four children, told Business Week magazine that the lawsuit was no picnic. Still, Haddad had a lot going for her. She was a relatively well-paid professional and her husband, Bill, is also a pharmacist. She had the education, intellectual wherewithal, financial independence -- and the guts -- to complain in the first place, and then to mount a lawsuit after she was unjustly fired.

But that's not the situation for so many other low-income cashiers and hourly employees who aren't in such privileged positions. So many women don't have the luxury to dare risk losing their jobs by filing a complaint. Those are the women who have been screwed by the five men in the court's majority.

Well, so, when we have this conservative Supreme Court handing down rulings like this, we need more inspiring stories. But it's hard these days to find stories. Or hope.

This article appeared on June 21, 2011 on the Huffington Post.

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