It’s a good thing that Wal-Mart’s corporate suits come with deep pockets, because the company has had to dig deep into its treasury to pay off some legal problems. This week the retailer settled another two lawsuits that will cost it millions of dollars.
On May 3, 2010, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had agreed to pay $27.6 million to settle charges brought against it by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, regarding violations of environmental laws in the disposal of hazardous materials.
In February of 2010, Wal-Mart paid $12 million to settle a nine year old lawsuit brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC “) in the Eastern District of Kentucky on behalf of a class of women who charged that they were not hired in a Wal-Mart distribution center in London, Kentucky.
In December of 2009, Wal-Mart paid out $40 million to settle a lawsuit in Massachusetts charging that Wal-Mart forced its hourly workers to work off the clock, and denied them required short breaks.
In December of 2008 Wal-Mart released a staggering list of 63 separate wage and hour lawsuits that had been settled by the company, at cost ranging from $352 million to $640 million, depending on various trial court approvals.
One month later, in January of 2009, Wal-Mart announced another $54 million settlement in a case from Minnesota, followed later by a $172 million settlement in California.
Just these cases alone over the past year and a half total more than $1.032 billion in ‘settlements.’
On May 12, 2010, Wal-Mart issued a press release explaining that it had settled two wage and hour lawsuits, in the so-called “Ballard et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores,” and the “Smith et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores” cases.
“Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has announced the settlement of a wage-and-hour class action lawsuit that has been pending against the company for several years,” the retailer explained in its statement. “Under the settlement agreements, the total will be at least $43 million, but no more than $86 million. In addition, Wal-Mart has agreed to continue the use of various electronic systems and other measures designed to maintain compliance with its wage-and-hour policies and applicable law.”
The “class” in this case was as many as 232,000 former workers at Wal-Mart. The plaintiffs say that the Wal-Mart workers will be paid $12 million in vacation pay and $74 million in unpaid wages to terminated workers. In settling the case, Wal-Mart denied the fact that any wages went unpaid.
These cases were first filed in 2006. The class involves all former California hourly and salaried associates, including those who worked at Sam’s Club and company distribution centers — except for truck drivers — whose employment with Wal-Mart ended after March 20, 2002.
According to court records, this case took four years of “intense litigation” before Wal-Mart decided to settle. More than 1 million court documents were filed, and Wal-Mart vigorously fought the class action status of this case. In February of 2008, a District Judge affirmed the class action status, and Wal-Mart appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals. That appeal is now moot.
On their website, the lawyers representing the Wal-Mart workers, Marlin/Saltzman, LLP, said “our clients allege that Wal-Mart has consistently violated California Labor laws by failing to pay all wages and/or accrued vacation time to terminating employees and has further failed to provide terminating employees with final paychecks in a timely manner.”
Readers are urged to contact Wal-Mart media relations at 1-800-331-0085 with the following message: “Congratulations on settling yet another wage and hour lawsuit — this time in California. I’ve lost count of how many ‘settlements’ this means you have paid out to your own workers who say you have illegally stolen their wages from them.
Not paying a worker for their full hours is a form of time theft — just as tangible as when a customer steals from Wal-Mart. You call such theft shoplifting, or shrinkage. Your workers have repeatedly charged you with wage-lifting or wage shrinkage.
You can talk all you want about helping people to ‘live better,’ but you might want to apply that slogan to your own workforce, which would live better if you paid them a decent wage — and paid them for every minute they work for you.”