Tag Archive: Title VII

Wal-mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes


The United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Wal-mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes on March 29, 2011.  With 500,000 plaintiffs (reduced from 1.5 million by the 9th Circuit), this case is the largest employment discrimination action under Title VII in U.S. history.   The plaintiffs allege sex discrimination at  3400 Wal-mart stores across the country, specifically claiming  both hourly and salaried wage discrepancies between men and women and the systemic denial of promotions based on gender.   This case has been litigated for 1o years, but the Supreme Court will not decide the merits of the case.  The questions presented to the Court are purely procedural.  The first issue is whether claims for monetary relief can be certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2).  The parties were also instructed by the Court to address whether the class certification ordered under Rule 23(b)(2) was consistent with Rule 23(b)(a).

Wal-mart argues, and critics agree, that there is too much variety among the individual members in the action such that they do not constitute a common class by a preponderance of the evidence.  For instance, promotion decisions were made by individual store managers at 3400 different stores and pay rates (and the discrepancies amongst them) vary across the 170 employee positions that the plaintiffs represent.

The National Organization of Women has condemned Wal-mart’s employment practices for years.  Recently, N.O.W. President, Terry O’Neill stated, “First we have banks that are ‘too big to fail’–now Wal-mart’s lawyers are claiming that the company is too big to sue!…Well, guess what?  When you’re the biggest employer in the nation and the richest company in the world, and you get that way by paying unfair wages, you should expect to find yourself on the wrong end of a massive lawsuit one day.”  So far, several fortune 500 companies have filed briefs in support of Wal-mart.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision this summer.

Male Sexual Harassment Victims

Most people associate sexual harassment with the idea of a man harassing a woman. We have been socialized to view males as the aggressor and  females as the victim; however, the reality is that anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment at the hands of anyone else. This is evident in the increasing number of sexual harassment claims that have been brought by male victims. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the number of males making claims has doubled in the past fifteen years. The reasons for this however, are deemed to be the result of many factors.

One major reason for this is that there is a social stigma placed on the idea of males as victims and even more so on the idea of males as victims of sexually-based crimes. The main premise is that “real” men are not sexually harassed. Furthermore, if they are, they can deal with it on their own rather than complain about it. Men who do seek the appropriate help can be easily viewed as weak, overly sensitive, and generally not masculine. This being so, the reason for the increase in males as victims in sexual harassment claims could be due to the fact that the amount of sexual harassment has not necessarily increased, but the social stigma associated with seeking help may have been altered, resulting in an increase in the reporting of sexual harassment. The fact that the first male victim sexual harassment case did not take place unless 1995  helps to validate this idea. In 1995,  the EEOC filed on behalf of Domino’s Pizza employee David Papa against his female boss, Beth Carrier. The EEOC claimed that Carrier engaged in various acts in the workplace including touching Papa’s neck, back and buttocks, asking him to engage in sex acts with her, and continually asking him to begin a romantic relationship together promising him a promotion if he complied. Six days after he confronted her asking her to stop the behavior, Carrier fired Papa despite a good work record, multiple promotions, and a recent “Manager of the Year” award. The court determined that males were a protected class and that Carrier’s actions are a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act  of 1964 .

The 1998 US Supreme Court case Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services broke new ground on sexual harassment claims. Joseph Oncale worked on a Louisiana offshore oil rig. His co-workers and supervisors often teased him for not being “masculine enough” and eventually threated to sodomize him with various objects. The harassment culminated in Oncale’s sodomization with a bar of soap in front of his co-workers. As a result, the Supreme Court determined that same-sex sexual harassment not only exists but is also a violation of Title VII.

Another factor for the increase in male claims may stem from the increase in training programs and company policies which urge people to seek the help of their human resource departments in order to resolve sexual harassment issues. Opening the lines of communication may have helped to make the idea of male victimization less taboo. Lastly, one of the most obvious reasons may be the fact that there are more women in the workplace than ever before and consequently more women in positions of authority. However, David Grinburg, spokesperson for the EEOC, claims that the majority of the sexual harassment claims brought may males have been same-sex, or male-on-male claims. These claims are not always merely the result of homosexual advances in the workplace, but are commonly the result of mean jokes or of horseplay.

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