By Bill Estep
Retail giant Walmart will pay $20 million to settle allegations of discriminating against women who didn’t get jobs filling orders at the company’s grocery distribution centers.
The case originated with complaints by two women at the Walmart distribution center in Laurel County, Ky., but will create compensation for women nationwide.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that Walmart discriminated against women at distribution centers across the country. There are 44 of those centers, said commission attorney Aimee L. McFerren.
There could be about 12,000 women who will qualify for compensation under an agreement to resolve the allegations, McFerren said.
Walmart did not admit it did anything wrong as part of the settlement.
The job at issue in the case is called an order filler. Those employees take grocery items, such as cases of canned food, off shelves and stack them onto pallet jacks to be wrapped and loaded on tractor-trailers for delivery to Walmart stores.
The job requires lifting up to 80 pounds, according to Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesman.
Walmart started using a physical abilities test in 2010 for people applying for the job.
The EEOC alleged that the test had a “disparate impact” on female applicants, putting them at a disadvantage and so denying them job opportunities because of their sex.
The commission’s position was that the test overstated the physical demands of the job, McFerren said in an interview.
Hargrove said Walmart had a third party create and validate the test, and believes it did not discriminate against women.
“We do not tolerate discrimination and we’re a great place for women to work,” the company said in a statement.
However, Walmart agreed to stop using the test, which is “consistent with the company’s efforts to accelerate and streamline the hiring process across the business,” the statement said.
The EEOC and the company worked out a settlement that was filed this week along with the complaint of discrimination in federal court in London.
In addition to paying $20 million, plus $250,000 to administer the deal, and stopping use of the test, the agreement calls for Walmart to do additional anti-discrimination training.
The settlement will set up an administrator to handle notifying women who could be eligible for payments and sending out checks.
The deal describes the money as back pay to women who didn’t get hired after receiving a non-competitive score on the physical test at Walmart’s distribution centers since February 2010.
Walmart will provide the EEOC with information needed to decide who is eligible.
U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell will have to approve the settlement for it to go into effect.
If any money is left over in the settlement _ because of problems finding some potential claimants, for instance _ it will go to the New Opportunity School for Women in Berea, Ky.
The goal of the program is to improve the finances, education and personal circumstances of low-income women in Appalachia.
In an earlier case in Kentucky, the EEOC alleged that Walmart didn’t hire women at the London distribution center for order filler jobs because of their gender.
A commission consultant in that case estimated up to 82% of female applicants were rejected based on “common female names” on applications.
Walmart did not admit wrongdoing in that case, but agreed in 2010 to pay $11.7 million. The EEOC said at the time it was thought to be the largest settlement against the company in a single discrimination complaint.
Nearly 1,400 women who had applied at the London center ultimately received payments. Most received $4,000, but some received up to $52,500.