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story.lead_photo.caption This June 25, 2019, file photo shows the entrance to a Walmart in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Walmart Inc. has agreed to work toward resolving the cases of 178 female employees who claim they were paid less than male co-workers or denied promotions because of their sex, a spokesman for the Bentonville retailer said Tuesday.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission it is "willing to engage in the conciliatory process" with all the women, who were part of a landmark class-action suit the U.S. Supreme Court ended in 2011.

In most of the cases, Hargrove said, "the EEOC's reasonable-cause findings are vague and non-specific even though we have asked the EEOC to provide detail on their findings." The agency has had the cases since 2012, he said, and Walmart has urged commissioners to move forward on them "for years."

"The allegations from these plaintiffs are more than 15 years old and are not representative of the positive experiences millions of women have had working at Walmart," Hargrove said. "Walmart will continue to respect the confidential nature of the process with the EEOC and will not be commenting on the individual cases."

Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, has more than 1.5 million workers in the U.S.

The documents the EEOC sent to Walmart state "there is reasonable cause to believe [the women] were paid less and denied promotion because of their sex," and ask both sides "to join in a collective effort toward just resolutions of these matters."

Christine Webber, a partner with the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll representing the women, said the EEOC is urging the parties to reach a settlement. While there's no set deadline for resolution, she said, eventually the agency must decide whether the effort has failed. At that point, Webber said, the EEOC may file a lawsuit of its own.

Webber's firm filed charges with the EEOC on behalf of more than 1,900 female Walmart employees, she said. About 200 women over the years have asked the agency for a right-to-sue letter so they could speed the process by going to court. These "spinoff" cases have been making their way through the court system.

The 178 cause findings the EEOC sent to Walmart are the first it has issued in cases related to the huge, but now-defunct lawsuit, Webber said.

Betty Dukes, who died in 2017, was a greeter at a Walmart store in California when she and five other employees sued the retailer in 2001. The women accused the company of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination against workers based on their race, religion, ethnicity or sex. They asked for damages including back pay.

The U.S. Supreme Court dissolved the record 1.5 million-member class in Dukes et al v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on June 20, 2011, saying the plaintiffs didn't have enough in common to constitute a class. Since then, hundreds of women from that case have filed spinoff lawsuits individually or in smaller classes.

A Florida federal judge in July granted Walmart's motion to sever the claims of 79 women represented in two spinoff lawsuits from the Dukes case. This means each woman represented in those lawsuits must file an individual amended complaint.

The same judge ruled last month that three women suing Walmart on sex bias claims didn't present enough admissible evidence for the case to proceed to trial. However, in granting the retailer's motion for summary judgment, the judge wrote that the evidence the plaintiffs submitted "certainly indicates that something was indeed rotten within the corporate culture at Walmart."

Business on 09/18/2019

Print Headline: Walmart to resolve sex-bias claims

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