The women who sought to sue Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) for gender bias on behalf of 1.5 million co-workers said they will press their fight against the nation’s largest private employer in smaller lawsuits in lower courts and claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday said the women failed to prove the world’s largest retailer had a nationwide policy that led to gender discrimination. The court deprived them of the leverage a nationwide suit brings, both in pooled legal resources and a potential multibillion-dollar verdict, forcing them to pursue claims on their own.

“When I go back to work tomorrow, I’m going to let them know we are still fighting,” said Christine Kwapnoski, an assistant manager at a Sam’s Club in Concord, California. She had accused a male manager of yelling at female employees and telling her to “doll up” by wearing more makeup and dressing better while working on a loading dock.

Wal-Mart may now face thousands of lawsuits nationwide and claims of discrimination before federal agencies as plaintiffs’ lawyers fan out to courts across the country to file new complaints on behalf of members of the failed group suit.

Kwapnoski and others pressing their suit claimed they were victimized by Wal-Mart’s practice of letting local managers make subjective decisions about pay and promotions. More than 100 employees filed sworn statements saying they were paid less and given fewer opportunities for promotion than male colleagues.

Women seeking advancement were required to commit in writing to overnight shifts for two years, while men were only required to rotate through such positions on a six-month basis, one former worker claimed.

Retail for Housewives

(For a related story on the Supreme Court ruling’s impact on class action litigation, click here. To read a story on how it may affect defenses against employee claims, click here. For a story on how the decision may affect company bias policies, click here.)

When one woman inquired about the higher wages paid to men who had the same or less seniority, she was told that “retail is for housewives who just need to earn extra money,” and “he has a family to support,” according to one declaration by a former Wal-Mart employee in Florida.

Wal-Mart said yesterday that the high court ruling “effectively ends this class-action lawsuit.”

“As the majority made clear, the plaintiffs’ claims were worlds away from showing a companywide pay and promotion policy,” Wal-Mart, led by Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke, said in a statement.

Wal-Mart rose 25 cents to $53.29 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

The workers “provide no convincing proof of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. All nine justices voted to overturn a lower-court ruling that approved the class action, with four of them saying they would have ordered further proceedings.

Unbalanced Promotions

Betty Dukes, another lead plaintiff who began working at a Pittsburg, California-based Wal-Mart store in 1994, said she noticed early in her career that “it was not balanced” when it came to promotions.

“The men at my store were being promoted more often than the woman for the same positions, and many of those positions were never openly posted,” she said in a telephone interview. Promotion opportunities were disclosed by management, which was predominantly male, she said.

Filed in 2001, the suit aimed to cover every woman who worked at the retailer’s Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club’s stores at any point since December 1998, including those not hired until years after the suit was filed. A federal appeals court had let the suit go forward on behalf of women who were working at Wal-Mart at the time the suit was filed.

Twenty Companies

More than 20 companies supported Wal-Mart at the Supreme Court, including Intel Corp. (INTC), Altria Group Inc. (MO), Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and General Electric Co. (GE)

The Supreme Court ruling limits the ability of plaintiffs’ lawyers to win multimillion-dollar damages through a single lawsuit, particularly against employers. Units of Cigna Corp. (CI), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), Bayer AG (BAYN), Toshiba Corp. (6502), Publicis Group SA, Deere & Co. (DE) and Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST) all face gender discrimination complaints that seek class-action status.

Four justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — said they would have returned the case to a lower court and let the workers try to press a class action using a different legal theory.

The lead attorneys for the plaintiffs are Joseph Sellers of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and Brad Seligman of the Impact Fund, which describes itself as a foundation that handles public interest litigation.

Aggrieved Workers

They said they would seek a way around the Supreme Court ruling, moving ahead with claims on behalf of aggrieved workers, either as individuals or as part of smaller groups.

“This case is not over,” said Seligman. “Wal-Mart is not off the hook. There are thousands of claims of discrimination that remain to be filed.”

The case was one of the most closely watched Supreme Court business disputes in years, in part because the justices hadn’t looked at the standards for certifying a class-action suit in more than a decade.

Women’s advocates called on Congress to enact new legislation protecting the rights of female workers in light of the high court decision.

“With this decision, the Supreme Court has assisted Wal- Mart in its efforts to systematically dole out promotions and pay raises on the basis of sex,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.

Washington Protest

At a protest against the ruling today in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, about 100 demonstrators called for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation intended to address pay inequity issues tied to gender.

Allison Grady, a protester with the Feminists Majority Foundation, said the demonstrators “wanted to be able to show that we were standing with the women of Wal-Mart.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday declined to comment on the case, while saying President Barack Obama supports proposed federal legislation to ensure pay equity for women in the workplace.

“We still are determined to go forward to present our case in court,” said Dukes, the lead named plaintiff in the case. “We believe we will prevail there.”

She and her co-plaintiffs alleged the world’s biggest retailer discriminated against them on the basis of their sex by denying them equal pay or promotions, in violation of 1964 civil rights law. The court didn’t rule the company discriminated.

Stephanie Odle, 39, who initiated the lawsuit after being fired from a Sam’s Club in 1999, said yesterday was a “great day” for big business.

“It shows how the legal system works,” Odle said in a telephone interview. “But I know in my heart that I made a difference. I didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but the minute that we filed the lawsuit, we started getting changes in pay and promotions.”

Trumped-Up Charge

Odle was working as an assistant manager in a Sam’s Club in Lubbock, Texas, when she was fired.

“They trumped up a charge and terminated me to give the job to a man,” she claimed.

Odle now owns her own business in Norman, Oklahoma. She was one of the original six plaintiffs who pursued the class action against Wal-Mart. She was dropped as a named plaintiff after a lower court decided all the class representatives needed to be from California.

Odle said she worked for Sam’s Club for eight years, in stores in several states.

“I’ve seen the discrimination, no matter what state you’re in, no matter what region,” she said. “I gave up my right to sue individually” while the class action was pending, Odle said. “Now I go back and sue them individually.”

‘Range of Options’

“We had prepared for a whole range of options,” attorney Sellers said in an interview. “We began weeks ago preparing thousands of charges to be filed with the EEOC,” referring to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which pursues workplace claims on behalf of employees.

Lawyers for the woman will try to pursue “some more narrowly drawn, tailored classes,” the lawyer said. “The case becomes splintered. You end up with multiple cases where Wal- Mart’s practices are being challenged.”

Federal lawsuits and claims before the EEOC won’t be stopped by the statute of limitations, which places a time limit on lawsuits, he said, because it was delayed while the proposed class action was pending.

Sellers and co-counsel Seligman said they would be pursuing individual actions against the company, and possibly smaller class actions.

They may also go back to the federal court in San Francisco where the claim was originally filed, seeking a narrowly drawn case of California plaintiffs, he said, and bringing lawsuits with different arguments in different jurisdictions.

“This will be a multi-front sort of battle,” he said. “There are a number of options still available — none of them are as efficient” as a nationwide class action.

Contingency Fee

Since class action litigation is prosecuted on a contingency fee basis — lawyers get paid when the client wins – – lawyers for the plaintiffs said they will continue to finance the litigation.

“We’re in it to see this thing to a successful conclusion,” Sellers said, adding that $3 million in expenses have already been paid. “Millions of dollars in attorneys fees have been expended and we haven’t been paid a penny.”

The cost of defending thousands of lawsuits in hundreds of courthouses may be expensive for Wal-Mart as well.

“Wal-Mart may regret the day” it sought a rejection of class certification, Seligman said. “Wal-Mart is not off the hook.”

The case is Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes, 10-00277, U.S. Supreme Court (Washington).


TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas legislators approved restrictions on private insurance coverage for abortions and adopted a state budget stripping funds from a Planned Parenthood affiliate, capping a string of victories Friday for abortion opponents only four months after sympathetic Gov. Sam Brownback took office.

This year, five major proposals favored by abortion opponents cleared the GOP-dominated Legislature as members heeded a call from Brownback to create “a culture of life.” But Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, the target of much of lawmakers’ efforts, confirmed that it is consulting with attorneys over possible legal challenges

“Four or five anti-choice bills, as we would characterize them, is pretty significant,” said Tait Sye, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “It would be in the top tier of anti-choice legislatures, which is probably what Brownback wants.”

Brownback, a Republican, is expected to sign the bill sent to him by the state House a mere 15 minutes before lawmakers adjourned their annual session. The House’s early-morning vote was 86-30 in support of a larger bill that included the abortion coverage restrictions. The state Senate had approved it Thursday night, 28-10.

The measure prohibits insurance companies from offering coverage of abortions as part of their general health plans, except when a woman’s life is at risk. If the bill becomes law as expected, starting in July, individuals and employers who want abortion coverage would have to buy supplemental policies that cover only abortion.

Supporters of the bill argue that it will protect employers who oppose abortion rights from having to pay for policies that cover the procedures. The legislation also says that no state or federally administered health-insurance exchange in Kansas established under last year’s federal health care overhaul law can offer coverage for abortions, other than to save a woman’s life.

The $13.8 billion budget approved by legislators, also early Friday, includes a provision diverting about $330,000 in federal family planning funds away from Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri to public hospitals and health departments. The group’s top executive warned that it will be forced to reduce services dramatically at clinics in Hays and Wichita that don’t perform abortions without affecting one in the Kansas City suburbs that terminates pregnancies.

Brownback already has signed legislation to tighten restrictions on late-term abortions and require doctors to obtain written permission from parents before terminating minors’ pregnancies. Legislators also have sent him a bill to impose new health and safety standards specifically for abortion clinics, which the governor plans to sign Monday.

“Governor Brownback has never been shy about the fact that he’s pro-life,” spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said.

Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said the state’s new laws will protect women who seek abortions from dangerous clinics and provide more accurate reporting by doctors about their activities.

“It has obviously been a good session,” Ostrowski said after lawmakers adjourned.

Democratic Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, who held the office before Brownback, blocked most major changes in Kansas abortion laws, vetoing legislation that is becoming law this year.

“There’s clearly a message here that women are dispensable,” said state Rep. Annie Kuether, a Topeka Democrat and one of the Legislature’s shrinking number of abortion rights supporters. “I’m sick and tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.”

The measures in Kansas are part of a wave of anti-abortion legislation across the nation, as abortion opponents have been encouraged by the election of new Republican governors last year and conservative legislators.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization supporting abortion rights, says Kansas and Missouri are among seven states now with restrictions on private health insurance coverage of abortion. Also, a dozen states, including Kansas, restrict coverage in health exchanges.

Planned Parenthood officials say moves to strip funds from affiliates are afoot in at least five other states; one in Indiana has filed a lawsuit there.

“Why would we want to continue to give Planned Parenthood tax dollars to ostensibly prevent pregnancy, when they make even more money performing abortions when that ‘prevention’ fails?” said Mary Kay Culp, Kansans for Life’s executive director.

But Brownlie said the Planned Parenthood clinics offer a wide range of services, including thousands of breast exams and tests for sexually transmitted diseases each year. The federal dollars account for about 10 percent of the budget for its Kansas operations, he said.

PALAKKAD: Various tribes and social organisations in Attappady have come out against the decision of the State government on Wednesday to provide one acre (0.4 hectare) of land and a monthly pension of Rs.1,000 to unwed tribal mothers.

Eswari Reshan, district panchayat member, said on Thursday that the decision was “an insult not only to tribal women but also to womanhood.”

She said some tribal women had come to her protesting against the reopening of old issues, saying that to get financial assistance, they were being forced to file cases against the men who had deserted them. Doing so would aggravate the stigma they faced for giving birth out of wedlock.

Rather than give relief, she said, the government should bring to book the men who had deserted the women after having a child or two. Some women had been abandoned by men who had legally married them. The relief announced would only encourage those who wanted to exploit women.

Ms. Reshan said the government should enforce the law against such cheating and exploitation. Provision of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act should be invoked.

On the government’s promise of land, Ms. Reshan said most unwed mothers owned two acres to five acres of land, but had no resources to cultivate it. The government should fund cultivation and offer employment and educational opportunities.

‘Atrocities will go up’

P.R.G. Mathur, expert in tribal affairs and former Director of the Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (KIRTADS), said the government’s decision would promote atrocities on tribal women, besides being an insult to them and womanhood.

Would the government apply the same yardstick to unwed mothers of other communities in various parts of the State, he asked.

Dr. Mathur said the government’s duty was to implement the law and bring the culprits to book. The men, not the government, should be made to pay for the crime.

He cited examples from Madhya Pradesh of men who had ditched tribal women being brought before the law and made to marry the victims and look after their family.

He said that Kerala government should immediately conduct a survey on unwed mothers in tribal areas.

M. Sukumaran, president, Attappady Samrakshana Samithi (protection committee), said no civilised society could accept the government’s decision, as it went against the law of the land.

WASHINGTON – The House voted Wednesday to ban teaching health centers from using federal money to train doctors on how to perform abortions, the latest in a series of anti-abortion measures pushed by the Republican majority.

The author of the measure, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said she wanted to make it “crystal clear that taxpayer money is not being used to train health care providers to perform abortion procedures.”

The proposal was presented as an amendment to the latest of several GOP bills to restrict funding for the health care act that was enacted last year. This bill gives Congress control over spending for a program to encourage health centers to provide training to medical residents. The amendment applies to funding in that grant program.

The Foxx amendment passed 234-182 despite the objections of some Democrats that it would prevent health centers from teaching a basic medical technique that can be critical to saving a woman’s life during emergencies.

“This amendment would jeopardize both education and women’s health care by obliterating funding for a necessary full range of medical training by health care professionals,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

The Foxx amendment and the overall bill to restrict the health care act both are likely to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Since coming to power in January, the Republican majority in the House has acted to write permanently into law the ban on federal funds to perform abortions, to make it easier for hospitals to refuse abortion cases and to make it more expensive for small businesses to choose insurance plans under the health care act that provide abortion coverage. The House unsuccessfully tried to cut off federal money for Planned Parenthood as part of the battle over this year’s budget.

“If organizations want to provide elective abortions or train abortion doctors they need to find someone other than taxpayers to write the checks,” Foxx said.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said Foxx’s amendment was an unprecedented restriction on medical training. “Regardless of how one feels about legal abortion, reasonable lawmakers can agree that doctors should be as well-trained as possible to deal with any medical situation that may arise,” she said.

The amendment also states that no funds available under the grant program can be used to perform abortions and that teaching health centers will not be eligible for funds if they discriminate against providers that deny abortion services.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the anti-abortion group National Right to Life, said the anti-discrimination provision was important because “the Obama administration has severely weakened enforcement of existing laws.”

He said conscience protections get a better reception in the Senate and that, even if the Senate does not act, it was important for the House to push its anti-abortion agenda. “It usually takes more than one Congress to accomplish worthwhile legislative goals,” Johnson said. “It is necessary often to build up momentum over several Congresses.”

SEOUL, South Korea — Hundreds of prostitutes and pimps rallied Tuesday near a red-light district in Seoul to protest a police crackdown on brothels, with some unsuccessfully attempting to set themselves on fire.

A crowd of about 400 people, mostly women wearing baseball caps, masks and sunglasses, chanted slogans like, “Guarantee the right to live!” during the four-hour rally.

At one point, about 20 protesters in their underwear and covered in body and face paint doused themselves in flammable liquid in an apparent attempt to burn themselves, but others stopped them from lighting any flames. Some of the women then sat in the street and wept and screamed, while other protesters consoled them.

Minor scuffles between protesters and police officers erupted after the rally, but there were no reports of major injuries.

Prostitution is illegal in South Korea but is widespread despite repeated government crackdowns.

The rally comes weeks after officials began stationing police cars near brothels in a bid to drive away people looking to pay for sex.

The sex workers accuse a nearby department store of pushing police to take such measures. Police deny the claim.

As part of their protest, a group of prostitutes on Sunday tried to buy expensive items at the department store with only coins; when they were rejected, they placed large piles of coins on the department store’s floors.

Legislation to mandate drug testing for people on welfare is on its way to the governor’s desk.

The House signed off on the bill this morning, which was even tougher when it came back from the senate.

“Recipients of welfare benefits, commonly called TANF, would have a drug test if there’s reasonable cause to believe that they may be using drugs illegally,” said Rep. Ellen Brandom (R) of Sikeston

Under the bill, welfare recipients would lose their benefits for three years if they fail a urine test that screens for narcotics.

The House originally said one year, but the Senate pushed it to three. The measure would allow drug users to receive benefits again after a time if they complete a drug treatment program and do not test positive again.

Critics say the legislation will have little deterrent value without treatment…

“And until we solve the underlying problem of drug abuse, you can take the money away all you want, those parents are gonna find a way to get the drugs,” said Rep. Genise Montecillo, (D), of St. Louis

Others question the expense.

“We’re gonna cost the taxpayers of this state a million dollars. And we don’t actually know how much it’s gonna save,” said Rep. Jacob Hummel (D), St. Louis. 

The senate also added a provision to require that the electronic cards used to claim welfare benefits include a photo of the recipient and be renewed every three years.

Lawmakers say that comes from recipients selling their cards to third parties for cash.

The coalition may present itself, like all the main political parties, as pro-family, but it is mothers who have become the “shock absorbers” for the coalition’s cuts in welfare benefits and childcare provision, say critics.

From cuts to maternity grants and child benefits, to closures of Sure Start centres, childcare schemes and after-school clubs, it is women – particularly single mothers on low incomes – who bear the brunt of attempts to reduce the deficit.

The changes will affect women’s incomes and ability to enter the job market, critics say, and put many at risk of poverty. “The disproportionate impact of the cuts on women raises issues of fairness and calls into question the idea of society sharing the weight of national debt reduction,” said Abigail Davies, assistant director of policy and practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing. “Overall the public spending cuts are known to impact disproportionately on single parent families, most of which are headed by women. Cuts to benefits and public spending, coupled with stricter job-seeking expectations for lone parents claiming benefits, will trap some women in an impossible situation.”

Benefit cuts that affect women include reductions in the childcare tax credit, the Sure Start maternity grant, and the health in pregnancy grant, and the freezing of child benefit rates for three years.

Katherine Rake, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, said: “The targeting of family benefits for cutbacks in the last 12 months means women’s incomes have been disproportionately hit. For many women, child benefit was the only source of income they received directly, giving them independence and control over family spending. The coalition’s decision to end universal child benefit was therefore a particularly painful blow.”

There are concerns that single parents – most of whom are women – will also be unfairly affected by housing benefit reform. “This will require some families to move, which is expensive, unsettling, affects [children’s] educational performance, and puts families into less economically successful areas with reduced employment opportunities,” said Davies. “Cuts to tax credits, Sure Start, after-school clubs and so on, create further barriers to employment for single parents.

“The government wants to encourage social mobility and tackle poverty, but these cuts do not create an environment which supports women or enables them to help themselves.”

Despite the government’s commitment to guarantee 15 hours a week free childcare provision, childcare support has been badly hit by local authority spending cuts. These have led to widespread cuts in Sure Start children’s centres and after-school and holiday play schemes. Although many councils have committed themselves to keeping centres open, most have reduced services drastically.

A survey of mothers using Sure Start centres, carried out in February by the Daycare Trust charity, found that 35% felt that the removal or reduction of services would leave them more socially isolated, and 32% felt it would be harder to see their midwife or health visitor.

Rake said there had been some positive policy developments for mothers over the past 12 months, such as proposals for shared postnatal parental leave, and to extend rights to flexible working. She added: “The government must deliver on these proposals if it is to make strides towards a truly family-friendly society.”