Employees Revolt Against Wal-Mart, Target

Photo: AP

Today, the Supreme Court tossed out a class action gender discrimination lawsuit filed against Wal-Mart Stores.

“The court did not decide whether Wal-Mart had in fact discriminated against the women, only that they could not proceed as a class,” The New York Times writes. The decision puts an end to what the story calls “the largest employment discrimination case in the nation’s history.”

While the Supreme Court decided it couldn’t proceed, there are still repercussions in the court of public opinion.

“This decision is about fairness, about the world’s largest private employer paying over a million women less than their male counterparts — and while it is certainly a setback, we will continue fighting,”,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is quoted saying inThe Washington Post.

And CBS MoneyWatch posted stats illustrating inequality on its website.

Even if the courts couldn’t proceed, there will be the lingering perception that Wal-Mart did, in fact, treat its female workers unfairly.

Likewise, Target has been in the media crosshairs over efforts to unionize one NYC store. Employees have sent their stories to Gawker, calling the working conditions at the store “soul crushing.” The blog has also posted a training video that talks up “two-way communication” between workers and the company but trash talks unions. In another clip, its general counsel for employee and labor relations, Jim Rowader, acts like a jerk when questioned by a pro-union cameraman.

Employees voted against unionizing, but there are allegations that Target intimidated its employees. A spokesperson denied the allegations. But there’s still a sizable number of workers who did vote to unionize, and the union has vowed to continue the fight.

First and foremost, if these two large and powerful retailers are instituting policies that treat workers unfairly, or are using their authority to intimidate workers, shame on them. Especially since many of these workers represent the very working class and middle class people that have made these stores successful. Shame, shame.

Secondly, it sounds like both companies have an internal communications problem on their hands. For all Target’s talk about two-way communication, if workers are sending their grievances directly to the media, it shows that actions aren’t backing that up. The same goes for Wal-Mart; if there are more than a million women who are willing to take legal action to get their voices heard, Wal-Mart execs aren’t listening.

Internal comms pros out there, how should these companies respond to the issues that their employees are bringing up? The comments section is open.

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