The class action plaintiffs who won a nearly $188 million judgment against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Pennsylvania state court for denying breaks to workers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the retailer’s appeal. Lead plaintiffs Michelle Braun and Dolores Hummel, who claimed Wal-Mart owed them $3 million for 187,000 off-the-clock hours from 1998 onward, said in a filing with the court that Wal-Mart had a full opportunity to present individualized evidence at the 2006 trial. Wal-Mart claimed the employees’ win resulted from a “trial by formula. The retail giant stated:
The courts below properly allowed the jury to consider Wal-Mart’s uniform business practices and its business records in answering ‘the single, common question of liability … whether Wal-Mart failed to compensate its employees in accordance with its own written policies. This was a trial by corporate record and admission, not a ‘trial by formula.
In petitions filed by Wal-Mart, it was contended that the plaintiffs used an unfair “trial by formula” that the U.S. Supreme Court expressly barred in its 2011 Dukes v. Wal-Mart decision. While only six plaintiffs testified on behalf of the class, the class’s experts used extrapolated evidence to calculate the total amount of damages suffered. The company added that the judgment violated its due-process rights and pursued multiple appeals before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled to uphold the decision in December.
Braun and Hummel responded that Wal-Mart had a sophisticated computerized record-keeping system that allowed them to track workers’ rest breaks, noting that the company’s move to shut down the system was a “transparent bid” to prevent employees to prove damages from systemic wage and hour violations. As a result, the trial court instructed the jury — without objection from Wal-Mart — that they could make an adverse inference from this absence of records and use expert testimony to reach a verdict.
Wal-Mart was recently backed in its efforts to roll back the verdict by several business groups. The Retail Litigation Center, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Product Liability Advisory Council all filed amicus briefs urging the high court to hear the case. The U.S. Chamber has never backed workers’ rights and is very much anti-consumer. Frankly, for these reasons, I wasn’t surprised that the U.S. Chamber would back Wal-Mart in the case. Hopefully, the plaintiffs will prevail and be able to receive all that is due to them under the law and facts of the case.
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