September 24, 2003 - Posted at: 7:59 a.m. CDT
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A federal judge is expected to hear arguments today in a lawsuit that has Wal-Mart worried because of its potential scope.
The judge is being asked to make the sex discrimination lawsuit a class action, potentially adding one-and-a-half million plaintiffs.
The lawsuit was filed by six former employees alleging that the country's largest private employer discriminates against women in pay and promotions.
Wal-Mart spokesman Mona Williams says the lawsuit is the most important of the more than 6,600 lawsuits the company is facing because of its scope.
The women claim Wal-Mart's tight central control of its more than 3,400 stores and 1.1 million employees in the United States can only mean that Wal-Mart culture favors men over women in pay and status.
The company acknowledges that there have been individual instances of employees being treated unfairly, but denies that any discrimination filtered down from headquarters in northwest Arkansas.
The lawsuit, filed in 2001, seeks an order ending discriminatory practices at Wal-Mart and lost wages, though lawyers did not list a dollar amount.