This week, Wal-Mart met its own ‘inconvenient truth.’ To avoid the expense and inconvenience of a prolonged legal battle, Wal-Mart agreed to pay as much as $85 million to its employees across the country while admitting “no wrongdoing of any kind.” On January 8, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that an attorney from Medford, Massachusetts had filed a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart on the grounds that the giant retailer had been stealing time from its own workers. Attorney Robert Bonsignore of Medford, Massachusetts charged that Wal-Mart had knowingly taken time away from its employees. A computer expert hired by the employee plaintiffs found 7,000 examples in a one year period where Wal-Mart managers deleted large blocks of time from their employee payroll records. This amounts to what Wal-Mart would call “time theft” from its own workers. Wal-Mart workers have no time cards. Their hours are all recorded by the company computer. If Wal-Mart managers want to shave off hours, only they have the official employee record. Wal-Mart, of course, denied the charges of time theft. This week, a judge in Nevada District Court issued the final approval on a settlement that had been signed in May of 2009 resolving no less than 39 separate state cases against Wal-Mart regarding wage and hour violations. Judge Philip Pro in Las Vegas issued final approval of the settlement, which covered 39 class action lawsuits across multiple states. Last December, Wal-Mart said it would settle 63 lawsuits over wage-and-hour violations. Each settlement still had to be approved by a trial court. The cases all involved reported “off the clock” violations, lack of proper lunch and rest breaks, and altering the time records of its workers. In his 16-page ruling, Judge Pro said, “The Court finds that Class Counsel have achieved an exceptionally favorable result for the members of the Settlement Classes by diligently pursuing this complex litigation for years despite the substantial risk of no recovery.” According to Attorney Bonsignore, over three million Wal-Mart hourly employees were affected by this Final Approval. Bonsignore says this is the largest wage and hours settlement in United States history. Bonsignore added, “Today is a good day for all Wal-Mart employees.” The last day for past or current Wal-Mart employees to submit a request for a cash payment ranging between $50 to $1,000 is November 9, 2009. All former and current employees can get a claim form by calling 1- 800-677- 5163 or by visiting the claim website at www.walmartmdl.com.
Being innocent of any wrongdoing at Wal-Mart has become a very expensive proposition. This settlement was a consolidation of 39 cases which were transferred into, or filed directly in, the Nevada District Court. The affected class in this case are “all current and former hourly employees who work or worked at a Wal-Mart store, Supercenter, Neighborhood Market, Sam’s Club or Distribution Center in any of the following states in certain time periods: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. As part of the terms of the settlement last spring, Wal-Mart agreed to pay between $65 and $85 million. As usual in these settlements, Wal-Mart “vigorously denies the allegations made in the Litigation, has not conceded or admitted any liability” to its workers. Wal-Mart said it “has not conceded or admitted that class or collective action treatment is appropriate with respect to any of the causes of action that are part of the Litigation, and would assert affirmative defenses as to all of the claims asserted against it… Wal-Mart has concluded, despite its position that it has not committed the wrongdoing alleged in the Litigation, that it is not liable for the claims asserted in the Litigation, that the Litigation is not suitable for class or collective action treatment, and that it has good defenses thereto, that it will nevertheless enter into this Agreement to avoid the further expense, inconvenience, and burden of protracted litigation, and the distraction and diversion of its personnel and resources, and the risks inherent in uncertain, complex litigation.” In other words, even though Wal-Mart thought it had a good case, the ‘burden’ of proving its innocence had become a costly distraction for a company that is supposed to be selling cheap underwear from China. Right to the end, Wal-Mart refused to admit that its time clock records showed that workers’ meals breaks were “missed or interrupted.” Wal-Mart agreed to class action status in this case just to get the settlement over with. However, the company does not want the class action status granted in this case to be used against it in any other litigation. Still outstanding is the largest lawsuit against Wal-Mart, the Dukes v Wal-Mart gender discrimination case. Wal-Mart continues to fight against class action status in the Dukes case because of the enormous financial implications of that case, which would make this week’s settlement in Nevada look like a penny ante bet. Readers are urged to email Wal-Mart at: http://walmartstores.com/contactus/feedback.aspx with the following message: “How can you keep denying any wrongdoing in cases that cost you tens of millions of dollars to settle? You are losing a lot of your shareholder’s money for a company that engages in no wrongdoing. Instead of ‘vigorously denying’ how you treat your workers, it’s time to pay them a decent wage, let them freely associate, and pay them for every minute they work for you. Then you could get back to selling cheap Chinese products instead of high-priced corporate lawyers.”