September 25, 2003 -- Posted at 7:23 a.m. CDT
SAN FRANSISCO, Cal.. --Wal-Mart Stores Incorporate is arguing in federal court that a gender-based discrimination lawsuit should not be expanded to include one-point-six (m) million current and former female workers.
The world's largest retailer is being sued by six women, but lawyers have introduced scores of statements from other women who say they were held back in pay and promotion or sexually harassed.
A judge conducted a day-long hearing yesterday in San Francisco. The plaintiffs want class-action status so virtually all of the company's female employees dating back to 1998 would be included in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs say Wal-Mart engaged in systematic discrimination. Bentonville-based Wal-Mart acknowledges there were isolated instances of discrimination but says there is no corporate intention to treat men better than women. U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins didn't issue a decision and gave no timetable for when he would issue a ruling.
The decision whether to elevate the suit to class status is pivotal. If the suit becomes a national class action, it would give lawyers for the women tremendous leverage against Wal-Mart as they pursue punitive damages, as well as back pay.