OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An Oklahoma woman's federal discrimination complaint filed nearly five years ago is part of a class-action civil rights suit filed against Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Stephanie Odle originally filed a gender-discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1999. Odle claimed Wal-Mart improperly disciplined her to sabotage her chances of receiving a desired co-manager position at a Sam's Club store in Tulsa.
The lawsuit against Wal-Mart seeks to determine whether the nation's largest private employer, systematically discriminated against women in its pay and promotion policies.
On Tuesday, a federal judge in California decided to expand the lawsuit to include virtually all women who work or have worked at Wal-Mart's 3,500 stories nationwide since December 1998.
Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., and the nation's largest private employer, had sought to limit the scope of the lawsuit and said it would appeal the ruling.
No trial date has been set in the lawsuit, which initially covered six women.
Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in Oklahoma, where it operates more than 100 stores, including Supercenters, discount stores, groceries and Sam's Clubs.
Odle, 32, said the lawsuit has prompted Wal-Mart to change the way it treats female employees.
``We've already won,'' Odle said. ``They have done numerous things that have changed the way that women are treated at Wal-Mart, and it's because of this case.''
Odle's attorney, Merit Bennett of Santa Fe, N.M., said Odle is no longer one of the lawsuit's named plaintiffs, although she is a member of the affected class and will play a key role in the case.
``She will testify at trial,'' Bennett said. ``She is still the spiritual head of this movement to make Wal-Mart treat women fairly.''
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman downplayed the ruling, and said the company would appeal.
``Let's keep in mind that (the) ruling has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of the case,'' spokeswoman Mona Williams said in a statement.
U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins ruled that the plaintiffs were able to show that women working at Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men in every region and that pay disparities exist in most job categories. Plaintiffs also showed that salary gaps widen over time, that women take longer to enter management positions.
Jenkins found that the evidence so far ``raises an inference that Wal-Mart engages in discriminatory practices in compensation and promotion that affect all plaintiffs in a common manner.''
Wal-Mart contends the suit ignores the thousands of women who earn more than their male counterparts. The retailer also says the lawsuit's allegations are flawed because they don't consider the factors that cause one job to pay more than another.