“Don’t let fear get under your feet,
for it will carry you where you don’t want to go.”
– Betty Dukes –
Betty was born in 1950 in Tallulah, LA. In 1960, her mother, Ms. Minerva Ponnell, moved Betty and her 11 siblings to Pittsburg, CA. Even though Betty did not graduate from high school, she obtained her GED in the early ‘80s, which was an important milestone in her life. Later, while Betty was a student at Los Medanos College, Betty was placed on the Semester Honor Roll and the Dean’s List – accomplishments that made her and her family very proud.
As an adult, Betty became active in her community, often speaking out at public school board meetings, community hospital board meetings and sharing her comments and concerns with local news media.
In the mid-1990’s, Betty launched a one-woman campaign to remove adult books and videos from the view and reach of minors at a local grocery store in her neighborhood. As a Christian and an ordained Baptist minister, Betty believed that she and others should be the VOICE and STRENGTH of those who have no voice or the ability to plead for themselves. Through her perseverance and the support of other like-minded neighbors, the store owner did cover and remove those items to a safer place out of the view and reach of young children.
When Wal-Mart hired Betty in 1994, she already had over 20 years of retail experience, including working as front-end manager and a paint department manager. She wasted no time in expressing interest in moving up the Wal-Mart ladder. By her fifth month, she was promoted to a full-time cashier, and by her ninth month she received her first merit raise of $0.25 cents for providing excellent customer service. Her hourly wage at that time was $5.50 an hour.
Early on, Betty noticed that there was no consistent pattern of job posting at Wal-Mart. Most of the time, opportunities for advancement were filled without being posted. The management team in her store denied her and many other qualified female workers advancement opportunities in favor of promoting male workers, usually by a tap on the shoulder or word of mouth.
When Betty questioned why she wasn’t being promoted after years of hard work, she was reprimanded, demoted and docked pay. She and five other women brought a gender discrimination class action suit against Wal-Mart. The case was filed in June 2001 in the San Francisco federal court and was certified as a national class action in June 2004. Betty was the lead plaintiff in the largest class action civil rights case in America’s history, Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
On March 29, 2011 the case finally heard before the Supreme Court and on June 20, 2011, Justice Scalia, writing for the five conservative Justices, held that the case could not go forward as a National Class Action, and in so doing overruled decades of precedent under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and created significant barriers for the use of class actions in employment discrimination cases, affecting all American citizens.
Today, Betty Dukes is still fighting for women and all marginalized workers. She is very proud to have had her voice heard alongside the other brave women fighting for their rights in the workplace. Even thought Betty is not a WalMart worker since December 31. 2015 the fight for equality is not over until all workers have exercise their voice without fear of retaliation.
Betty Dukes has led Betty Dukes Ministries in Pittsburg, CA for the past two decades, which promotes social and betterment activities in her community. Betty often contributes her strong resolve and persevering spirit to the strength that she observed in her beloved mother, who passed away in May of 2015.
Betty Dukes was also the 2013 Winn. Newman Awardee