Why You Should Listen to Your Lawyer!

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Wal-Mart evidently knew years before it was finally sued for sex discrimination that it was vulnerable to being sued on those very grounds. In 1995, the mega-store had hired a law firm to examine its position with respect to wages and promotions between men and women, and the law firm found widespread gender disparities in pay and promotion at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores and urged the company to take basic steps — like posting every job opening and creating specific goals to promote women and minorities — to avoid liability.

The 1995 report said that women employed by Wal-Mart earned less than men in numerous job categories, with men in salaried jobs earning 19 percent more than women. By one measure, the law firm found, men were five and a half times as likely as women to be promoted into salaried, management positions. According to the report, without significant changes, the lawyers said in their confidential analysis, Wal-Mart “would find it difficult to fashion a persuasive explanation for disproportionate employment patterns.”

So what did Wal-Mart do? Evidently nothing. In 2001, seven women filed a class-action suit on behalf of all women working at the company. They complained of a general pattern of discrimination in pay and promotions. The lawsuit has now been certified as a class action, and the company is appealing the class certification.

What is the lesson here? If you hire a law firm to examine your company’s position on anything…whether that be wage and promotion disparity, risk management for product liability or safety compliance, listen to your attorneys. If you think they are wrong, hire another firm or another attorney and get a second opinion. Don’t put your head in the sand and do nothing. Doing nothing is never the answer, whether in your personal life or the life of your business.

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