June 20 2011
The SCOTUS decision Monday morning to stop the lawsuit against Wal-Mart from proceeding as a class action was a tremendous victory for our economy and for women. The justices agreed unanimously that the case cannot advance in its current form, which could have included up to 1.6 million women.
Discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity and religion is already illegal, and individual employees with legitimate complaints should have the opportunity to bring a case to court. But at a time when our economy is still facing tremendous volatility and unemployment is over 9 percent, companies cannot afford to spend their time fighting frivolous lawsuits like this one.
As I've written before, it was absurd to think that Wal-Mart systematically discriminated against millions of women, regardless of job description or store location. In the aggregate, women are outperforming men in terms of college-graduation rates, advanced degrees, purchasing power and even, in some cities, earnings.
Today's victory helps underscore the fact that the best explanation for differences in pay between men and women comes down to choices - not widespread discrimination. Perhaps now traditional feminist groups will begin to accept that equality under the law doesn't necessitate gender parity in all professional arenas.
And one more thing: Cases like this one ignore the ways in which companies like Wal-Mart are actually ahead of the curve when it comes to creating more female-friendly workplace environments. Wal-Mart has been recognized for being a leader when it comes to workplace flexibility - something that benefits both women and men. It's true this notion was born in the legal department of the company, where employees no longer work within any time boundaries; but the idea has been tremendously successful, and many other departments at the wholesale level are moving to implement similar policies.
Today's decision is a small step for Wal-Mart and a giant leap for gender equality.
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum and managing partner of Evolving Strategies.