United States retail giant Walmart likely discriminated against scores of female employees because of their gender, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing memos by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) seen by the newspaper.
The report quoted the EEOC memos as saying there was reasonable cause to believe Walmart denied 178 women promotions, paid them less than their male counterparts, or both. The charges involve workers in more than 30 states, says the WSJ,
The EEOC documents reportedly request that the individuals who filed complaints and Walmart come to a “just resolution” over the matter, with failure to do so possibly resulting in the federal regulator filing a future lawsuit against the company.
EEOC’s move marks a milestone in a years-long push by current and former Walmart workers to seek damages from the company for alleged discrimination.
In 2001, employees of the company launched a class-action lawsuit that accused the retailer of paying some 1.6 million female staff members less than their male counterparts.
Since then, the WSJ reported, nearly 2,000 women have pursued cases against the company over alleged sexual discrimination.
But Walmart was quick to dismiss the report on Tuesday, with a spokesman for the company saying the allegations were more than 15 years old and “not representative of the positive experiences millions of women have had” as employees of the company.
Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company has told the EEOC it is willing to engage in a conciliatory process.
Hargrove also said that in the vast majority of cases, the EEOC’s reasonable cause findings are “vague and non-specific” even though Walmart has asked the EEOC to provide details on its findings.
With some 1.5 million US employees, Walmart is the country’s largest private employer.
A spokesman for the EEOC said the agency couldn’t comment on investigations or the administrative process unless litigation is filed, but an employment lawyer told the WSJ it was uncommon for the body to issue findings of such a scale against a single company over a wide geographic area.
When the EEOC issues findings of such a kind it could mean the agency believes problems were systemic, not due to a single bad actor, said Kenneth Yerkes, partner at law firm Barnes & Thornburg LLP.