A Historic Tuesday in the Fight for Fair Pay

| Mar 29, 2011

It’s fitting that the landmark pay discrimination case, Wal-Mart v. Dukes, is being argued before the Supreme Court today, Tuesday, March 29th. Equal Pay Day, which marks how far into the year women must work to match the amount paid to men in the previous year, falls on a Tuesday. Tuesday is also how far into the week women must work to catch up with what their male counterparts were paid the week before. And today happens to be the last Tuesday of Women’s History Month – a time when we celebrate the women who have led the way in the fight for equal rights, reflect on how far we’ve come, and renew our commitment to eliminating the barriers to equality.

Today is a historic day in the struggle for fair pay and equal rights for women. For more than 10 years, Betty Dukes and 1.6 million current and former female Wal-Mart employees have been fighting for their right to challenge unfair pay in court, arguing that the nation’s largest private employer engaged in widespread pay and promotion discrimination. The Supreme Court will be deciding whether or not the case – the largest class action lawsuit in U.S. history – can proceed.

The women of Wal-Mart represent the tens of millions of working women in this country who suffer from discrimination in the workplace. Women are nearly half of the labor force and are the sole or co-breadwinners in six out of 10 households. Yet, more than four and a half decades after the enactment of the Equal Pay Act, they are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. For African American and Latino women, the numbers are even worse: 62 cents and 52 cents, respectively. Every time women are shortchanged, the negative impact ripples throughout their families, communities and our economy. At its core, that is what the Wal-Mart case is really about: Whether or not women who have been shortchanged have the right to challenge their employers. Sadly, the case has been stalled by the company’s ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.

If the Court rules that the case cannot proceed, more than a million women may be denied the right to seek a remedy for the systemic discrimination they may have suffered. The outcome is important both for the Wal-Mart women and their families, but also for every working woman in the country who needs fair pay.

No matter what happens, the Wal-Mart case has reinvigorated the fight for fair pay. By raising awareness of the prevalence of pay discrimination – an issue that the National Partnership has been working on since the beginning – the case has inspired many women and men to speak up. Women and men across the country have been offering their support for the women of Wal-Mart and sharing their own stories of discrimination. More than 2,000 of you sent moving words of support to Betty Dukes and the women of Wal-Mart, and many more have been engaging through social media.

The timing of this energy and renewed commitment is crucial. Equal Pay Day, Tuesday, April 12th, is only two weeks away. This year, we await the re-introduction of the Paycheck Fairness Act – federal legislation that would get us one step closer to equal pay for equal work through balanced protections for employers and employees. Just this month, the president reaffirmed his commitment to passage of the bill. In light of the data on the wage gap, and the countless stories of women throughout the country who have suffered from pay discrimination, passing the Paycheck Fairness Act this year is critically important.

So, this Tuesday, as we near the end of Women’s History Month and stand with the incredibly courageous, dedicated women of Wal-Mart, let us take inspiration from the fair pay champions who have come before us, as well as the heroes who have committed themselves to the fight today. Just like Betty Dukes and the women of Wal-Mart, we cannot – and will not – give up. Let’s keep the pride, energy and commitment we feel today with us as we continue the fight for fair pay and equal employment practices, until every women gets a fair shake in the workforce.