Approximately 1.6 million past and present female employees of Walmart have had their sex discrimination case dismissed by the US Supreme Court. This case began almost 10 years ago with claims by 5 female workers that they were paid less than their male counterparts and had been passed over for promotion. Despite statistical evidence suggesting a case of sexual discrimination, it was ruled that Walmart was not discriminating against women, as promotion decisions were made by individual managers, hence there was no common element between the plaintiffs. Justice Antonin Scalia said that a common element was ‘entirely absent here’.
Discrimination of any kind will have an impact on the demand curve for labour (or the marginal revenue product curve). As such, the equilibrium wage rate will also be affected: if a firm believes that women are less productive than their male counterparts, the MRP curve will shift inwards, pushing down their wage. The key to this case was that there were so many plaintiffs and so it was practically impossible to determine whether or not pay differentials and promotions were based on legitimate grounds. The following articles consider the case against Walmart.
Supreme Court decision in Walmart class-action claim brings praise, anger FoxNews (20/6/11)
Walmart wins class action ruling Financial Times, Barney Jopson (20/6/11)
Wal-Mart women denied discrimination class action BBC News (20/6/11)
Walmart sex discrimination class action rejected Guardian, Dominic Rushe (20/6/11)
- Why might a firm engage in discrimination?
- Use a diagram to illustrate the impact of discrimination against women by a firm on the marginal revenue product curve for women.
- Following discrimination against women and in favour of men, what happens to the men’s marginal product curve?
- Given your answer to the above 2 questions, what would you expect to happen to the equilibrium number of male and female workers and the male and female wage rate?
- Are there any adverse effects to a firm of engaging in discrimination of any kind?