NOW Blasts Wal-Mart Workplace 'Abuses'

The National Organization for Women has declared Wal-Mart, the nation's largest company with close to 1 million employees, "a Merchant of Shame," alleging wage and hour abuses and discrimination. The company denies the charges.

Now President Kim Gandy says Wal-Mart faces numerous allegations of sex discrimination in pay, promotion and compensation; of wage abuses, violation of child labor laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act; exclusion of contraceptive coverage in employee insurance plans and discrimination on the basic of sexual orientation.

"Wal-Mart is number one on the Fortune 500 list. It's also the number one most sued retailer in the United States," adds Gandy. "The nation's number one company should be a model workplace, not the worst of bad examples."

She says NOW's Merchants of Shame are an important part of the group's Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign - a pro-active project demanding equal rights for women on the job. According to her, NOW's campaign spurred Smith Barney, Mitsubishi Motors and other leading corporations to work toward creating women-friendly and family-friendly workplaces.

Jessica Eldred, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, headquartered in Bentonville, Ark., points out that women hold positions at every level in the company, from associates at a local stores, to members of the board of directors, senior vice presidents and managers of stores. They are compensated fairly and equally, says Eldred, and have a comprehensive benefits package.

As for NOW's contention that the company is facing allegations it violated child labor laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Eldred says, "It is certainly our policy to make sure we are following all laws, federal and state. We don't tolerate deviation from those laws."

Some employees claim certain store locations have deviated from federal laws, particularly those governing compensation for hours worked.

Wal-Mart is currently the target of a large class action lawsuit. A number of current and former employees in 28 states have sued the company, contending they were expected to continue working after clocking out or begin working before they clocked in. Federal and state laws Federal regulations, enforced by the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, specifically bar employers from making hourly employees work unpaid hours. Wal-Mart policy forbids it as well.

The company paid $50 million two years ago to settle a similar class action suit brought by employees in its Colorado stores.

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