Wal-Mart Sexual Discrimination Case Study

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Updated: May 10, 2021
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Wal-Mart’s vision is to achieve superior customer service and low prices by applying three basic beliefs of founder Sam Walton: “respect for the individual, service to our customers, and strive for excellence.” How might workforce diversity help a company fulfill this vision? How might diversity make this vision more challenging to achieve? Based on the information given in this case, how well do you think Wal-Mart has fulfilled its vision?

Sam Walton, the late founder of Wal-Mart, brought about a vision for his company in which he wanted to have. The vision was simple, and it involved three basic policies; to show “respect for the individual, service to our customers, and finally strive for excellence.” In 2004, a class action lawsuit involving sex discrimination challenged Wal-Mart on all the beliefs that Walton set for his company. The lawsuit in 2004, followed by the multiple account that followed afterwards, brought about the question on whether Mr. Walton’s vision for his company was maintained even after multiple claims of females being overlooked regarding equal pay and promotions throughout various Wal-Mart establishments all over the nation.

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Citizens throughout America are entitled to share equal rights due to certain legal regulations that have been passed from the previous laws that have been instated. The American workplace, which is typically women and minorities, share a pretty substantial amount of the labor force in the United States. The overall goal of a workplace is to create an environment where every employee has opportunities to be successful and where their differences are leveraged for the success of the organization(Cheah, 2013). In Wal-Mart, women roughly make up about 56% of the workforce. With numbers being that high, you would think there would be an uproar of excitement coming from the equal rights community. However, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Female employees held two-thirds of the lowest-level hourly jobs at Wal-Mart, but only one-third of the management jobs and women overall were paid on average $1.16 per hour less than men in the same positions, though the women had more seniority and higher performance ratings(Totenberg, 2011). It came as quite a shock to see a corporation such as Wal-Mart have such a highly equal female workforce in one area of its employees such as cashiers, stockers, and customer service reps while on the other side, they heavily lack the number women in their management jobs. According to Certus, Men tend to focus on one life aspect at a time, and this is often their career which can be a fundamental source of happiness, whereas women typically want a more varied lifestyle and are not as willing to make the sacrifices that come with the opportunity of promotion (Puzey, 2017). Opportunities such as equality and diversity in the workplace is difficult objective to achieve even in successful corporations/companies and this is particularly true for Wal-Mart. According to the New York Times article, the corporates of Wal-Mart stated in there defense that “the company did not discriminate and that decisions about raises and promotions were made by individual stores, not at the corporate level”(Greenhouse, 2004).

Currently, there are thousands of stores opened around the world with roughly over a million employees working at them. It is true that as the size of a company increases, the ability to maintain 100% control and influence over them slowly begins to dwindle as would any company/corporation. This ultimately leads to more managers taking matters into their hand, and more likely push decisions based on their preferences rather than the companies. It is highly unlikely that the companies are able to keep tabs on every hiring and/or promotional arrangement that Wal-Mart owns nationwide, which leads to my belief that it is inconceivable that each store ensures that every customer and employee will be treated to the standards that Mr. Walton wanted. If all employees are given equal opportunities in the workplace, I believe that many of these problems would heavily decline or quite possibly be eliminated. This might be harder than one might think, but with the size of a corporation like Wal-Mart, I believe they have the resources gathered to train everyone they’ve hired to follow their set of values.

From reading over the articles, in my personal opinion, I believe Wal-Mart failed to uphold the vision that was brought about by Sam Walton. After looking more into the surrounding cases, it appeared that Wal-Mart gave their store managers and department supervisors open clearance to introduce their own decisions regarding promoting and hiring employees. Because of this mistake, the Wal-Mart employees that were employed were not presented to the beliefs/values that Mr. Walton was so set on introducing and holding, and because of that, the corporation’s standards were easily corrupted which overall led to the workplace being corrupted. No matter the field, diversity has always been a challenge when it comes to running a business/corporation. If diversity is managed correctly in the workplace, then it’ll eventually lead to a unison between employees and their managers. This is because a diverse workplace represents the society, the community, and the customer base of the company. Wal-Mart has achieved some of the aspects of Mr. Walton’s vision correctly, but there are some aspects of his view that still need to be worked on to ensure everything works out in the long run. Diversity leaves a lot to be desired in a workplace, and if companies learn to implement this aspect into their workforce correctly, then their companies will ultimately create an environment in which their employees will strive from it and allow for the company to boom.

Defenders of Wal-Mart point out that a company with more than a million employees cannot be expected to ensure that every single person is treated fairly; it has to trust lower-level managers to do the right thing. What general requirements does this viewpoint place on store managers and department supervisors?

Based upon the principles that were left behind by Sam Walton, there are plenty of requirements left for the department supervisors and store managers to follow to keep the company operating at 100%. It is important to provide options to your store manager and department supervisors in order to keep your system of beliefs operating without fault. While it is understandable that not everyone who works at a large company is guaranteed to be treated fairly or correctly, it is in the companies’ best mindset to treat everyone fairly and provide certain measures to ensure that their employees are treated fairly through their time at the company. Unfortunately, when a company such as Wal-Mart, does not hold these lower-level managers to a certain obligation there is a greater chance for a discriminatory instance to occur such as the one the occurred in 2001 and later on in 2004. It is up to the upper-level leadership positions to encourage and promote lower-level management in order to ensure that they follow the companies’ set vision. It is important that larger corporations, such as Wal-Mart, should be held accountable, if it’s within reason, for how lower-level managers conduct operations. Corporations must remember that the employees that end up working for them represent the face of the company and overall end up being the face that is displayed to the neighboring nations when they come looking to create partnerships. When it’s time to hire department managers or store managers, companies are always on the lookout for workers with leadership and those of whom also have a fighting spirit within them(Reddy, 2018). If a company keeps this mindset when hiring employees, you would think they wouldn’t run into any issues. However, store managers and department supervisors aren’t always on the same page in their beliefs thus resulting in several unethical hires.

It is understandable that a corporation the size of Wal-Mart might run into trouble when trying to make/force someone to learn the values as everyone learns differently. What the store managers and department supervisors can do is provide the tools to their employees, which will then ultimately allow them to accomplish what they are specified to do to ensure that Mr. Walton’s value is continued to be held. When a company does this, it envelops a sense of ownership in your employees and thus creates a better working field for everyone that is holding true to the companies’ vision statement. Even though a company is only able to influence their employees’ actions to a certain degree, they are entirely responsible for hiring employees that are on the same page as the corporation’s general requirements. Even though it sounds a bit harsh, most corporations see employees in the sense that all they are replaceable. Hiring employees that share the values as Mr. Walton’s and giving them the correct training to fulfill those values is something that managers and department supervisors are obligated to do if they want the company to run well without experiencing drastic problems. If they see that a lower-level manager is not keeping up to date with these values and operating out of terms, then it is their responsibility to fire them and find someone who will push to promote these essential values left by Mr. Walton.

Prepare an argument supporting either the female employees’ charges or Wal-Mart‘s defense. Look up recent news stories about the case and see if they contain additional facts you can use to support your argument.

There is no denying that Wal-Mart has indeed been involved in many class-action lawsuits charging sexual discrimination over the past couple of decades. One of the biggest things to look into though in cases like these is whether these charges involved a handful of women or a significant majority of affected women. If there were a trend of common discrimination found throughout the company, then that would easily indicate corporation corruption and overall expose the failure of store managers and department supervisors in not hiring better employees and introducing them to the key values created by Mr. Walton. In comparison, if there is an indication that the infractions reported have merely occurred in one or two Wal-Mart’s, then it is possible sign that it may not be the corporation’s fault, but the store managers and department supervisors’ fault for not enforcing Mr. Walton’s beliefs and hiring employees that are unable to follow the policies.

In the article by the Washington Post under the heading “Walmart’s rebuttal,” it states that “Wal-Mart denies any wrongdoing and emphasizes that its corporate policy forbids discrimination, encourages diversity and ensures that everyone is treated fairly” (Editors, 2011). The company also stated that the “hiring decisions are made by the local store managers rather than the corporate level and that the store managers were given broad discretion in pay and promotion.” (Editors, 2011). While I partially agree with the fact that it is hard for a company of that magnitude to be held accountable for every employed employee, I believe that the company should be held responsible for their employees’ actions if there becomes a common trend of miscommunication or interpolation of Mr. Walton’s valves. If there becomes an increasing trend among managers to be discriminate against women, and Wal-Mart decides to do nothing but continue to let the problem go on, then that is when I would say that the company should be held accountable for the actions of their employees. As mentioned before, if the company doesn’t hold its store managers and department supervisors accountable for the increasing trend of discrimination based on sex, then it is implied that the head supervisors refuse to care about Mr. Walton’s vision for the company. If a company’s workers are unable or not taught how to hold onto the current vision statement, then there will always be a problem like this coming up unless it is addressed at the source.

In a statement to Vox, Wal-marts media relations specialist Lamia Jenkins stated the following “Walmart has had a strong policy against discrimination in place for many years, and we continue to be a great place for women to work and advance” (Lieber, 2019). “The allegations from these plaintiffs are not representative of the positive experiences that millions of women have had working at Wal-Mart” (Lieber, 2019). The 2004 lawsuit filed included only six women which in Wal-Marts eyes was a huge relief because this brought about the question on whether or not this case was a serious issue or just an issue that popped up due to a couple of stores misguidance in supervision. Wal-Mart also released a statement stating, “We’ve said all along that if someone believes they have been mistreated, they deserve to have their timely, individual claims heard in court, and we plan to defend the company against these claims” (Sainato, 2019). Unfortunately for Wal-Mart, this wasn’t the case.

In 2001, nearly 2,000 female Wal-Mart employees filed a charge of pay and promotion discrimination against the retailer with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (Mirando, 2018). These new charges were filed in about 48 states, encompassing every Wal-Mart retail region in the United States and as stated by a co-lead counsel for women “The fact that EEOC charges were filed in every single Wal-Mart region in the nation demonstrates the widespread and persuasive nature of Wal-Mart’s pay and promotion discrimination against its women employees” (Mirando, 2018). This was pretty much the icing on top of the cake as it was world known that there was indeed a massive problem within Wal-Mart in how they settled sexual discrimination in women’s pay and promotion.

Due to the store managers and department supervisors hiring managers who did not share the same beliefs as Mr. Walton, the company altogether is pretty much the one that indefinitely should be held accountable for not keeping their employees set on their companies’ values. From the recent and past articles, there is an overflowing amount of evidence that shows that Wal-Mart is indeed guilty of discrimination against women who were looking for better pay and the opportunity to rise higher in promotions like men within the company. With this finally being acknowledged, it was overall a huge victory for women in all businesses. Due to the discovery of sexual discrimination, it left a pretty clear messages to all companies/corporations. Just because a corporation is more significant, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are free to operate without following a set of rules. To compensate the affected women, Wal-Mart now has implanted a program to help boost the share of female managers(Young, 2011). While it should be understandable that getting rid of sexual discrimination in the workplace is no easy task, as companies such as Wal-Mart found out. Thankfully over the years, Wal-Mart has discovered the problem that comes with discrimination based on sex and hopefully this opened the eyes of companies around the world to begin to see just how important it is to ensure that they implement a set of values for their store managers and department supervisors to follow.

In conclusion, no matter the size of the corporation or the diversity of the people who are working in it, it is essential to have a set of principles that your corporation should follow. In doing so, it allows for a better system in which your store managers and department managers can successfully train your employees with the correct mindset and thus hopefully you ’ll never experience problems as Wal-Mart experienced throughout the past decade over sexual discrimination.


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  2. Editors, W. P. (2011, June 20). Rundown: Wal-Mart sex discrimination suit goes to Supreme Court. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/political-economy/post/rundown-wal-mart-sex-discrimination-suit-goes-to-supreme-court/2011/03/25/AFrOw0nB_blog.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.989b650426e9
  3. Greenhouse, S., & Hays, C. (2004, June 23). Wal-Mart Sex-Bias Suit Given Class-Action Status. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/23/business/wal-mart-sex-bias-suit-given-class-action-status.html
  4. Lieber, C. (2019, February 15). Walmart just got hit with a major gender discrimination lawsuit. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/2/15/18223752/walmart-gender-discrimination-class-action-lawsuit-2019
  5. Mirando, S. (2018, November 28). 2,000 Women File Wal-Mart Gender Discrimination Charges with EEOC. Retrieved from https://topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/employment-labor/1969-2000-women-file-wal-mart-gender-discrimination-charges-with-eeoc/
  6. Puzey, J. (2017, September 26). Why women don’t want that promotion. Retrieved from https://www.certusrecruitment.com/news/why-women-don-t-want-that-promotion–72692691624#
  7. Reddy, C. (2018, March 08). How to Create an Ownership Mentality in your Team?
    Retrieved from https://content.wisestep.com/ownership-mentality-team/
  8. Sainato, M. (2019, February 18). Walmart facing gender discrimination lawsuits from female employees. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/18/walmart-gender-discrimination-supreme-court
  9. Totenberg, Nina. (2011, June 20). “Supreme Court Limits Wal-Mart Discrimination Case.” NPR, NPR, www.npr.org/2011/06/20/137296721/supreme-court-limits-wal-mart-discrimination-case.
  10. Young, C. (2011, July 08). Wal-Mart and Gender Discrimination. Retrieved from https://reason.com/archives/2011/07/08/wal-mart-and-gender-discrimination
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Wal-Mart Sexual Discrimination Case Study. (2021, May 10). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/wal-mart-sexual-discrimination-case-study/