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Betty Dukes and the 1.5 million women who signed on to a class action sex discrimination lawsuit against Walmart aren’t the only ones who lost out in the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the case. Groups fighting Walmarts around the country—-including the ones coming into Washington D.C.—-now have one less argument in their offensive against the anti-union retailer.
A win for Dukes would have generated potentially billions of dollars in back pay for women who said they were treated unfairly. But it would have also given local politicians a powerful reason to step up and oppose Walmart’s entry into urban markets. Here in the District, members of the Respect DC campaign rarely fail to mention the fact that Walmart has the largest class action suit in history pending against it. The Court’s ruling doesn’t erase that history, but it does weaken it as evidence of Walmart’s uniquely evil character.
Putting that aside: If you’re a woman in a store such as Walmart—-or another non-union company, like Harris Teeter or Whole Foods—-and you feel discriminated against, what recourse do you have in the District? Fortunately, we have strong human rights laws that cover almost every class of people. But the Office of Human Rights doesn’t have a lot of teeth, and can’t force an employer to award back pay. You can also file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Unions, though, typically have their own agreements with employers about equality on the job, and are useful to have on your side in fights such as these.