The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has affirmed the $187 million award in a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The workers had been denied rest breaks. The court said individual examinations of all 187,000 class members weren’t needed to determine whether employees were forced to work through their breaks. Wal-Mart had claimed it was denied its due process rights during the jury trial because the Plaintiffs used an unfair “trial by formula.” But the Pennsylvania high court disagreed, saying evidence in the case supported the inference that managers companywide were pressured to increase profits by understaffing stores. Those across-the-board factors impeded workers’ ability to take scheduled breaks, according to the court’s opinion.
No initial finding of liability for a subset of employees was extrapolated to the entire class, the opinion said. Instead, the extrapolated evidence was used to calculate the total amount of damages. The court wrote in a per curiam opinion:
Both parties had ample opportunity to present evidence to explain these discrepancies, i.e., to show that the discrepancies were or were not evidence of classwide wage-and-hour violation. Thus, Wal-Mart’s claim that it was denied due process fails.
Two suits filed by two former Wal-Mart employees, Michelle Braun and Dolores Hummel, claimed the company owed them $3 million for 187,000 off-the-clock hours from 1998 onward. Evidence was presented showing that Wal-Mart made workers skip more than 33 million breaks and 2 million meal periods from 1998 to 2001.
In June 2011, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas’ $187 million judgment against Wal-Mart, finding that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that Wal-Mart breached its contract with its workers and violated state wage laws.
The court ruled that Wal-Mart appeared to be claiming the workers’ claims could only be properly proven by individual examination to determine whether they were forced to work through breaks. According to the court’s opinion, the case involved a central, common issue of liability — whether Wal-Mart failed to pay its employees as promised in its written policies — which was proven on a classwide basis at trial. Wal-Mart said it still believed the class’ claims should not have been tried together, and that it is considering a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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