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Lawyers for a group of seven women suing Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for sexual discrimination have asked the court to allow an estimated 1.6 million women to join the suit, potentially creating the largest class of its kind. In a filing with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Monday, lawyers representing the plaintiffs asked Northern District of California Judge Martin Jenkins to certify a class consisting of all women employed by any United States Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club store since Dec. 26, 1998. Initially filed in June 2001, Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, 01-2252, accuses Wal-Mart of consistently paying women lower wages than men and failing to promote them to managerial positions as often. Monday’s motion for class certification contains sworn statements from 110 former female Wal-Mart employees and an analysis of Wal-Mart’s corporate files and electronic payroll data. According to the filing, since 1996, women at Wal-Mart have earned less than men holding the same jobs in nearly every job category. In 2001, for instance, the average male store manager earned $105,682 while the average female store manager earned $89,280, the complaint alleges. Male sales associates took home $16,526 on average that year while female sales associates received $15,067. A Wal-Mart executive disputed those figures. “They took our personnel data and had their experts run the data all sorts of ways to get the results they wanted,” said Mona Williams, vice president of communications at Wal-Mart. “Our experts ran the same data and came up with different results. We showed that in nine out of 10 of our stores there’s virtually no difference in pay between men and women.” While Jones Day once represented Wal-Mart in the case, the company is now being represented by Los Angeles’ Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. Williams said she wasn’t sure why Jones Day was no longer involved. The plaintiffs are represented by six firms, including The Impact Fund, a Berkeley, Calif., nonprofit, as well as San Francisco’s Equal Rights Advocates; Davis, Cowell and Bowe, a San Francisco labor rights firm; and Washington, D.C.’s Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll. “This motion is the ballgame,” said Brad Seligman, executive director of The Impact Fund. “If the judge grants the motion for class certification, then this case involves more than 1.6 million women. If he denies the motion, this case involves seven women.” The suit seeks backpay and unspecified punitive damages. Seligman said if the suit is certified as a class action, total damages could easily eclipse the $500 million that currently stands as the largest recovery in an employment discrimination case. A hearing on the class certification issue is scheduled for July 25. Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, with annual revenues of $244.5 billion and more than 1 million employees working at more than 3,400 stores across the United States.

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