Wal-Mart will pay $11.7 million to settle discrimination suit

The country's largest private employer, retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc., will pay $11.7 million to settle a federal discrimination suit that claimed the company passed over women for a certain position at its London, Ky., warehouse.

Federal officials said they think the settlement is the largest ever against Wal-Mart in a single discrimination lawsuit.

The complaint was filed in 2001 by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Wal-Mart employee Janice Smith. Smith alleged that supervisors at the Wal-Mart distribution center hired mostly men ages 18 to 25 for the position of "order filler" and passed over Smith's transfer request because she is a woman. Since then, the EEOC has added at least six other women to the suit, and thousands more might be eligible for back pay if they applied for jobs and were not hired between Jan. 1, 1998, and Feb. 15, 2005.

The number of eligible women will be determined in the coming months, said Nancy Dean Edmonds, lead attorney for the EEOC. A commission expert estimated that between 71 percent and 82 percent of female applicants were rejected for the job based on "'common' female names" on job applications, court records indicate. The disproportionate number of men in the job was "statistically significant and highly unlikely to have occurred by chance," the EEOC argued.

The company does not admit any wrongdoing, according to the terms of the settlement. A trial in the suit had been scheduled to start Monday, but the settlement was agreed to instead.

"We're pleased this matter has been resolved. These claims do not reflect Wal-Mart's continuing commitment to build an even more diverse and inclusive workplace through hiring and training initiatives," a company spokesman said Tuesday. "We respect and value the unique talents each associate contributes to the company's ability to make a difference in the lives of our customers."

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