The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has affirmed a $187 million award for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. employees who were allegedly forced to work off the clock and skip rest and meal breaks. In its opinion, the Appeals Court said there was sufficient evidence on the record to conclude that Wal-Mart breached its contract with its workers and violated state wage laws. The Court wrote:
The record reflects testimony and documentary evidence suggesting that because of pressure from the home office to reduce labor costs and the availability of significant bonuses for managers based on store profitability, Wal-Mart’s scheduling program created chronic understaffing, leading to widespread rest-break violations.
The Appeals Court also concluded that the trial court had not abused its discretion or violated Wal-Mart’s due process. The Court did, however, reverse and remand the Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fee award of $45.6 million, saying that “the Court inadvertently double-counted contingency factors incorporated into the counsel fees.” The original $78 million verdict was handed down October 13, 2006. The jury found Wal-Mart liable for not paying employees for time spent working off the clock. That award was almost doubled in 2007 when the court added $62.2 million in liquidated damages for the class of more than 187,000 Pennsylvania workers.
The suit was filed by two former Wal-Mart employees, Michelle Braun and Dolores Hummel, who claimed Wal-Mart owed them $3 million for 180,000 off-the-clock hours from 1998 onward. It was contended that Wal-Mart made workers skip more than 33 million breaks and 2 million meal periods from 1998 to 2001. In its appeal, Wal-Mart claimed, among other things, that the case should not have been certified as a class action and that it had not breached a contract with its employees because the company’s policies and its employee handbook did not establish a contract.
The class is represented by Michael Donovan of Donovan Searles LLC, Judith Spanier of Abbey Spanier Rodd & Abrams LLP, Gerald Bader Jr. of Bader & Associates LLC, and Rodney Bridgers of Frank Azar & Associates PC. They did excellent work in this case.
Source: Law 360
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