In a major legal setback to Wal-Mart, on November 2nd, Dakota County, Minnesota district judge Thomas Lacy ruled that a class-action lawsuit filed by four Minnesota women seeking compensation for more than 65,000 current and former Wal-Mart workers in the state can proceed as a class action suit. The “Minnesota Four” are Nancy Braun, Pamela Reinert, Cindy Severson and Debbie Simonson, all Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club workers. They claim that Wal-Mart often forced workers to skip meals and rest breaks, and that Wal-Mart managers regularly forced employees to work extra
hours without pay. The suit claims these activities go back at least eight years. “This is an important ruling which can bring fair pay to thousands of the working poor in Minnesota,” attorney Jonathan Parritz, with the lawfirm of Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand, in Minneapolis told the Star Tribune newspaper. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company strongly denied the allegations, and said the company may appeal the decision. “Wal-Mart’s policy is to pay associates for every minute they work,” the company explained. “Certifying this as a class does not mean the company has done anything wrong or improper. We have no reason to believe that these isolated situations . . . represent a widespread problem with off-the-clock work.” But the class action status is incredibly important to the legal case, because a class action means that these 4 plaintiffs can sue on behalf of all Wal-Mart employees in Minnesota, rather than each employee filing a separate lawsuit. The court ruling covers some 58 Wal-Mart and Sam’s stores in Minnesota. Linking this case to the recent bust of illegal workers at Wal-Mart, one lawyer for the plaintiffs said: “The labor practices we are challenging in this case may well stem from the same organizational issues at Wal-Mart which create huge pressure on store managers to shave labor costs. They must meet very aggressive budgets dictated to them by headquarters.” In this week’s ruling by Judge Lacy, he found evidence that Wal-Mart routinely took advantage of its workers. The company’s own records proved that Wal-Mart denied meal and lunch breaks to its workers. The oversized retailer is facing wage lawsuits in as many as 30 other states. Wal-Mart’s own tally says that class action certification has been denied in 8 states, but the Minnesota case now joins Indiana as a class action status. The biggest class action suit is pending in San Francisco, where a group of female Wal-Mart workers have sued for sexual discrimination in working conditions and benefits. This suit could involve hundreds of thousands of workers. All these lawsuits have given Wal-Mart the dubious honor of being “the most sued retailer” in the world.
Wal-Mart gets to go to the head of the Class in Minnesota. There was surely a cold north wind blowing through the Arkansas legal offices at Wal-Mart this week. For more background on Wal-Mart’s legal woes, search this database by “lawsuit”.