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Only a cynic would find irony in the Wal-Mart Foundation's $2 million donation to Dress for Success.  I'm a cynic, and after you read this, you will be, too.

I love Dress for Success.  I love the idea of outfitting women returning to the workforce with flattering, confidence-building interview and work outfits. I loved them when I showed up with a minivan packed with plus-size clothes I had dieted out of, and 12 pairs of size-ten high heels  that I had tripped myself out of. (They get a lot of sizes 2 and 4. Bless their hearts.) And I love the goals of the Wal-Mart Foundation, which is trying to align itself with women's economic independence.

Much of my firm's work has the same aim. In fact, Wilson-Taylor Associates is named after my mom and mother-in law.  Both of them abruptly divorced just past their twenty-fifth wedding anniversaries and spent the next two decades working overtime to catch up economically. 

Yet I suspect that even my unaccountably cheery mother and mother-in-law would choke on the irony that Wal-Mart is heaping upon itself. How can the company and the foundation be trumpeting their efforts to support nonprofits that benefit women even as they line up  against the  millions of women  Wal-Mart employees represented in the wage discrimination suit filed a decade ago by Betty Dukes?

The case is slated to be heard by the Supreme Court tomorrow.  The Supremes will decide if the women constitute a 'class' for purposes of continuing with the class action lawsuit.  The women contend that they have enough in common to constitute a 'class.' They were working for the same company, stymied from advancing in consistent ways regardless of location, and paid less, despite excellent performance reviews and more seniority than male colleagues.

Lots of big companies are lining up behind Wal-Mart because they correctly perceive this as a precedent-setting case. The National Women's Law Center and others are lining up behind Betty Dukes and the women of Wal-Mart.  Soon, we will find out once and for all what it takes to constitute a 'class' of women at a single workplace. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart can't launder its reputation  through its foundation -- not when its own women are dressed for duress.

Joanne Cleaver blogs about advancing women in the workplace at Women Drivers.

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