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AMERICAN MORNING

Women Versus Wal-Mart?

Aired May 23, 2003 - 09:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Former Miss America Carolyn Sapp says the country's largest private employer, Wal-Mart, is anti-women, and she has launched a campaign called Wal-Mart Versus Women.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAROLYN SAPP, FORMER MISS AMERICA: Becoming Miss America opened up a whole new world for me, but not every woman is as lucky. "Businessweek" reports that Wal-Mart pays women less than men, and "The New York Times" reports that Wal-Mart does not promote women fairly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Sapp was joined by dozens of current and former Wal- Mart employees in Las Vegas this week who want to force Wal-Mart to change the way it treats women.

Thousands of others are involved in a pending lawsuit against the company which could become the largest class action employment discrimination case in history.

Joining us now to share their stories, 1992 Miss America, Carolyn Sapp from Las Vegas this morning. Good morning to you.

SAPP: Good morning.

COLLINS: From San Diego, Gina Espinoza-Price, a former employee who says she was unfairly treated when she worked at Wal-Mart, and from Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, Wal-Mart vice president of communications, Mona Williams. Good morning to you as well. Gina, I would like to start with you. You worked at Wal-Mart for almost seven years. Tell us about your experience.

GINA ESPINOZA-PRICE, FORMER WAL-MART EMPLOYEE: Yes. I worked at Wal-Mart for about six and a half years. I worked in 103 U.S. Wal- Mart stores, and 30 Sam's Clubs. I helped open 122 Wal-Marts in Canada and 21 stores in Mexico. Throughout that time, although working quite hard at my job, I never felt like -- I was treated the same as men both in promotion and in the pay scale.

COLLINS: How so? You were paid less and you weren't promoted?

PRICE: Actually, I was given more responsibility, but was never given the title to attain the dollars.

COLLINS: All right. Carolyn Sapp, tell us why you got involved. Are you trying to raise public awareness about this, or what is your role exactly?

SAPP: Absolutely. We want to reach out to people and say, Look, this is what is going on at Wal-Mart. They are not paying women the same as they pay men. They are not promoting them fairly, and it is time that people out there knew, and as far as the consumers, women are the largest consumer at Wal-Mart, and I think that when they hear this news, they'll make a difference and take a stand against Wal- Mart.

COLLINS: Let's ask. Mona, why don't you go ahead and tell us about what Wal-Mart's response is to all of these allegations?

MONA WILLIAMS, VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNICATIONS, WAL-MART: Heidi, one of the strengths and weaknesses, I think, of this great country is that anybody can say just about anything, whether it's true or not. And Ms. Sapp is clearly a very bright woman. She has done a lot of very good work, but I wish she had taken just a little bit of time, invested a little bit of time in getting to know our company before she launched into this publicity campaign.

Let me set the record straight. Wal-Mart does not discriminate, does not tolerate discrimination against anyone, including women. The facts show that in nine out of ten of our stores, we pay men and women almost the exact same thing. Men a little more in some stores, women a little more in others, and we promote women at the rate that they apply for positions, and in many cases, even better.

COLLINS: Mona, let's go ahead then and look at some of these numbers from this "Businessweek" story. First, it shows that women only hold about 10 percent of the top management jobs, but make up 93 percent of the cashiers' positions. Why aren't there more women at the top?

WILLIAMS: Clearly, Heidi, we have some work to do there, and we realize that we are working on it. I think it's a case that we have grown so quickly and we've invested in our people, in finding the right talent, in training them and making sure they understand our values that we haven't always done all that we should to make sure we had processes in place to make sure that we are promoting women on up and that we do have talent at all levels of the organization. We're working on that. We are fixing that.

COLLINS: Carolyn, do you see some improvements here as to what Mona is telling us this morning?

SAPP: Actually, no. In fact, if you look at the "Businessweek" article, I have a hard time believing that four million employees of Wal-Mart, which is stated in the three studies that were done, over four million employees were surveyed, and they were not treated fairly. So I have a hard time believing that four million employees of Wal-Mart are wrong. No, I don't buy that.

COLLINS: Mona, let me just ask this final question. We are running out of time here. Can you guarantee a woman working at Wal- Mart at this day and age now after the improvements that you spoke of this morning, the exact same opportunities as a man, system wide? WILLIAMS: Absolutely I can, and I have to point out, Heidi, that the "Businessweek" story is simply the plaintiffs' numbers. Those are not hard numbers. Those are not necessarily numbers that we even agree with. But yes, we are putting processes in place to make sure that women do have access to all of the jobs, that they're promoted fairly.

When you look at the growth that our company has ahead of it, our commitment to women, the fact that we promote -- two-thirds of our managers come from our hourly bodies, I mean, there's no better time to be at Wal-Mart. There are no more opportunities anywhere in the world than for women at Wal-Mart right now.

COLLINS: Mona Williams, VP of communications from Wal-Mart this morning. Carolyn Sapp, Ms. America of 1992, and Gina Espinoza-Price, a former Wal-Mart employee. We certainly appreciate your time this morning in this discussion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

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