“Our people make the difference,” Wal-Mart boasts. But in Massachusetts, the “difference” could be tens of millions of dollars if employees win their class action lawsuit against the nation’s largest private employer. A ruling this week from Middlesex Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy ruled against Wal-Mart’s motion to dismiss the class action suit. The suit, which charges Wal-Mart failed to pay its employees for their time worked, and did not give them proper meal and rest breaks, was filed by former Wal-Mart workers Crystal Salvas and Elaine Polion. “This is huge,” said the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Robert Bonsignore of Medford. “What this means is we have a reasonable probability of success, based on a very tiny sample that showed they knowingly took time away from employees.” A computer expert hired by the plaintiffs found 7,000 examples in a one year period where Wal-Mart managers deleted large blocks of time from their employee payroll records, according to The Boston Herald. 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 case was first filed three and a half years ago. It is one of at least 35 similar lawsuits in other states across the country that claim Wal-Mart forced employees to work overtime without pay. If the Massachusetts “associates” win, Wal-Mart could owe them triple the back wages due each worker. The Boston Herald estimated that this lawsuit could cost Wal-Mart as much as $100 million to settle.
Wal-Mart is considered to have more lawsuits brought against it by its own employees than any other company in the nation. That may seem logical, since Wal-Mart is the largest private employer, but it is unlikely that other large companies have as many unhappy employees as Wal-Mart. Behind the company’s aggressive advertising budget, which shows legions of smiling associates, lies a vast amount of unrest and dissention among its workforce, and a turnover rate of 45% every year. One of the ways Wal-Mart drives down prices is by short-changing its own workers, in this case, by “stealing” hours for free. For earlier stories on worker unrest at Wal-Mart, search Newsflash by “employee.”