Betty Dukes to U.S. Senate: The Best is Yet to Come!

June 30, 2011

As AAUW’s Lisa Maatz mentioned earlier this week, Betty Dukes, the lead plaintiff in the discrimination case against Wal-Mart, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, June 29. The hearing, entitled Barriers to Justice and Accountability: How the Supreme Court’s Recent Rulings Will Affect Corporate Behavior, examined recent Supreme Court decisions in Wal-Mart v. Dukes and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. In both cases, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of corporations over individuals. (Watch out for an upcoming blog post analyzing the Supreme Court’s apparent bias in favor of businesses.)

Betty Dukes speaks with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (photo by Samuel Lehman)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened the hearing by criticizing the Supreme Court’s decision for giving “Wal-Mart and the rest of corporate America a clear path to avoid company-wide sex discrimination suits: Have your lawyers write a nondiscrimination policy, then allow your local branches to implement compensation decisions, and you can hide behind your policy regardless of what really happened to your employees across America. Through this decision, a narrow majority of five justices have, again, made it harder to hold corporations accountable under our historic civil rights laws.”

When it was her turn to testify, Dukes spoke about her time at Wal-Mart and how her attempts to advance in the company were constantly rebuffed. She told Leahy that the plaintiffs came together to sue because it was an important way to avoid the company’s “intimidating environment” that fostered retaliation against individuals who complained of discrimination. Dukes also said that even though it took a decade for their case to come before the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs stayed united because the case was an opportunity for them to come together and have their voices heard.

Personally, I think the whole hearing can be summed up in one exchange between Dukes and Leahy.

Leahy: So, Ms. Dukes are you giving up now?

Dukes: Absolutely not, the best is yet to come!

Indeed, the best is yet to come. A range of options exists to right this Supreme Court wrong, and AAUW is working with many friends and coalition partners to take a hard look at those options. The court’s decision underscores the need to strengthen our federal employment discrimination laws through legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act. Many women in this case might not have suffered this kind of unlawful pay discrimination if the necessary tools and deterrents were in place. Stay tuned!

By:   |   June 30, 2011

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