Wal-Mart gets sent to the back of the class — again. A judge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ruled n December 27th that Wal-Mart workers who charge they were not given their proper rest and lunch breaks can file as a class action against Wal-Mart. The decision, in this case, Hummel v Wal-Mart Stores, is terrible financial news on the heels of a $172 million verdict against Wal-Mart in a similar lunch break case in California last week. The California case involved roughly 115,000 Wal-Mart employees, but this Hummel case could count as many as 150,000 workers. The California fine amounted to roughly 6 hours of sales at Wal-Mart. “We strongly deny the allegations in this lawsuit,” a company spokesman told the Legal Intelligencer. “Wal-Mart’s policy is to pay associates for every minute they work. Certifying this as a class does not mean that the company has done anything wrong or improper. There has been no ruling on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims.” The Judge ruled that Wal-Mart’s own computerized time sheet records had revealed that workers routinely missed their breaks, and that employees who missed their breaks were not paid for them. Wal-Mart introduced video tapes of their own workers saying they voluntarily worked off the clock. But the Judge responded, “One need only recall the symbolic placement of the middle finger of the captured crew members of the USS Pueblo in photographs displayed by their North Korean captors along with their ‘confessions’ to recognize the need to observe all the testimony of current employees testifying under their employer’s watchful eye that they voluntarily worked off-the-clock without pay because of their devotion to the ideal of corporate profitability through customer satisfaction.” Wal-Mart employees are suppose to receive one paid 15-minute break during each three-hour shift and two paid 15-minute breaks and unpaid 30-minute meal break during each six-hour shift. The plaintiffs charge that studies conducted in a dozen Wal-Mart’s in Pennsylvania between 1998 and 2000 show that 65% of the workers’ shifts had insufficient break time, and that 40% of workers did not receive the required number of breaks. The Judge ruled that Wal-Mart’s own [nationwide] internal management analysis revealed that an average of two breaks per associate per week were either missed or shorted at every store. The internal audit’s findings concerning the Pennsylvania stores [specifically] actually revealed greater deficiencies than [the plaintiffs’ expert’s] conclusions.” A jury trial will begin in early September, and lawyers for the workers estimate that if Wal-Mart loses, that individuals in the suit could receive thousands of dollars each.
If each plaintiff got $1,000, Wal-Mart’s liability in this case would be $150 million. One of the lawyers serving as co-counsel in this suit is from the same Colorado firm that was lead counsel in a similar lunch break class action suit in Colorado that cost Wal-Mart $50 million to settle. For similar stories, search Newsflash by “lunch” and “time”.