BOSTON — Wal-Mart said Tuesday it has formed an office of diversity and assigned one of its top-ranking women, Charlyn Jarrells Porter, to run it.

This story first appeared in the November 19, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer has also hired AT&T’s vice president of corporate affairs, Esther Silver-Parker, to serve under Porter as vice president of diversity relations, a new position. Silver-Parker starts Dec. 1.

The moves come as a San Francisco judge deliberates whether to grant class-action status to a gender discrimination lawsuit potentially encompassing 1.5 million current and former female Wal-Mart associates. The ensuing publicity has been a black eye for Wal-Mart, making it potentially vulnerable with its vast female customer base.

In a statement about the new office, Wal-Mart president and chief executive Lee Scott noted “diversity doesn’t just happen…Just saying we are committed to diversity is not enough — we must put in place the right systems, processes and leadership to make it happen.”

Porter, whose chief diversity officer title is unchanged by the move, will continue to oversee the company’s diversity initiatives, including employment practices, vendor relationships and community outreach, as the company builds this new office.

Asked if the office was established in reaction to the Betty Dukes gender discrimination case, a spokeswoman replied, “absolutely not.”

But, she added, “This case has brought additional focus that this [office] is the right thing to do for our associates and for our business. We see ourselves as a corporate leader in employment and as such, we’re making a heightened commitment to diversity.”

However, opposing council in that suit has used the retailer’s employment data, which allegedly show a steep disparity in the number of female versus male managers, among other things, as the basis for its argument about systematic discrimination.

Porter, an attorney and 11-year Wal-Mart veteran, will continue to report to vice chairman Tom Coughlin.

Silver-Parker currently oversees AT&T’s foundation and its corporate social responsibility programs, skills that will likely be crucial to Wal-Mart’s long-term bid to polish its image.

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