From the time she got her job at Pace Membership Warehouse in Roseville, Calif., in 1993, Claudia Renati was determined to advance. Her husband had been injured and couldn’t work, and the housing market plummeted in the early ’90s, hitting them hard. “I needed steady income to keep our house,” she recalls.
When Sam’s Club, a warehouse retailer owned by Walmart, bought Pace in 1993, Renati was optimistic. The orientation materials described how high-performing employees could take part in the manager-in-training (MIT) program, a prerequisite for shifting from hourly roles to salaried management. She dreamed of running her own store.
“I worked my butt off year after year with excellent reviews,” she says. Renati kept asking for promotions. Instead, other people–“the white-boy frat,” she says–were put in the positions she sought, and she had to train them. Many didn’t have Renati’s experience; one was a microbiologist.
At one point, Renati says, a district manager told her that to get into the MIT program, she would have to move to Alaska. She pointed out that she had trained plenty of men who had gotten promotions without uprooting to Alaska and that she was willing to move to other Sam’s Clubs in their area to do her training. But this boss wouldn’t budge.
Eventually she watched more than a dozen men get promoted over her. She developed depression, anxiety and high blood pressure, all of which she attributes to the stress of what she went through. “A part of you is torn out every time you applied and they never gave you a chance,” she says. Each time, she’d come home and cry. “And then I’d get up the next day and go to work.”
Renati is hardly the only woman who believes she’s been mistreated by Walmart. Women across the country are lodging complaints against the company. From a former employee at a Kentucky store to a current one who has worked at four different locations in Virginia, the allegations are remarkably similar: the women earned less than men in similar roles, were told that the men needed the money to support their families, were less likely to be promoted, had to train the men who became their supervisors and had their advancement restricted by policies that didn’t seem to apply to their male co-workers.
Renati, who left Sam’s Club in 2002, says she plans to file suit later this month in California accusing the retail giant of gender discrimination. When she does, she will join several hundred women in at least a dozen states who have filed complaints since the end of last year or will be doing so soon, according to Joseph M. Sellers, an attorney at the law firm Cohen Milstein who has worked on these cases since the 2000s and is coordinating among local counsels.
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