Betty Dukes

Betty Dukes took Wal-Mart to the Supreme Court on behalf of workers’ rights. (Courtesy photo)

The Black woman who took one of the world’s largest corporations to the highest court in the land said recently that she will continue to fight for gender equity and for the rights of employees in the workplace.

Betty Dukes, who retired from Wal-Mart after 21 years last year, after fighting her employer in court for 15 years, was the principal speaker at a press conference that was held on March 29 at the National Press Club. The purpose of the event was to commemorate the fifth year anniversary of the Wal-Mart vs. Dukes U.S. Supreme Court case which ruled, 5-4, that the 1.6 million female employees of Wal-Mart couldn’t use the class-action suit format to recover damages for gender pay and promotion discrimination.

Dukes, who lives in northern California, told a group of women’s rights advocates and reporters at the event that the fight for gender equality in the workplace continues despite losing the court case.

“Women have such a long way to go and have come a long way,” Dukes said.

Maya Raghu, the director of Workplace Equality of the National Women’s Law Center and a speaker at the event noted that women earn 79 cents to every dollar that a man earns.

“The numbers are worse for women of color,” Raghu said. Raghu said that one-fourth of women who earn minimum wage on their jobs are women of color and more likely to be their family’s breadwinner than White women. She said that 66 percent of all people who would earn more money under increasing minimum wage efforts would be women and the tipped wage, where workers are paid according to tips and less so by salary, are having to get by on $2.13, and the majority of those are female.

Raghu urged the audience to support U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D-Md.) The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow employees to share information about their salaries without being disciplined or losing their jobs. She also urged the passage of Sen. Robert P. Casey’s (D-Pa.) bill, The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would prohibit discrimination against women who are pregnant in regards to company policies.

Tamara Smith, president of the YWCA of the National Capital Area, praised Dukes for her work for gender equity in the workplace and said there is plenty need for her type of advocacy in the District.

“In D.C. there are 60,000-90,000 people who don’t possess a high school diploma or a GED,” Smith said, noting that Dukes got her GED at 30. “Many of these people are women and they are without credentials to compete in the city’s job market.”

Smith said that women need to support each other when it comes to seeking employment and she touched on the country’s politics when making a point about women advancing in their careers.

“We need a woman in boardrooms and leaders of organizations,” she said, “and we need a woman in the White House.”

Dukes said her foundation, The Betty Dukes Foundation, seeks to empower female workers and other marginalized populations in the labor force to fight discrimination and abusive practices in the workforce. She touched on politics briefly when she said “how can some in our society embrace an individual like Mr. Trump” and the reason why times are so contentious is “because everything in Washington is on lockdown.”

Dukes is asking people to support “The Equal Employment Opportunity Restoration Act of 2012 that is co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and U.S. Rep. Rosa De Lauro (D-Conn.). The bill would negate the Wal-Mart vs. Dukes ruling and allow employees in companies to sue in a class action format.

“We as Black people cannot look at life through rose-colored glasses,” she said. “We need to see the real world. Remember, there were good slave masters during slavery but our people were still slaves.”