[OPE-L] Jury Awards $172M to Wal-Mart Employees

From: Alejandro Valle Baeza (valle@SERVIDOR.UNAM.MX)
Date: Thu Dec 22 2005 - 20:19:21 EST

Jury Awards $172M to Wal-Mart Employees
Thursday December 22, 7:47 pm ET
By David Kravets, Associated Press Writer
California Jury Awards $172 Million to Wal-Mart Workers Who Claim They
Were Denied Lunch Breaks

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- A California jury on Thursday awarded $172
million to thousands of employees at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. who claimed
they were illegally denied lunch breaks.

The world's largest retailer was ordered to pay $57 million in general
damages and $115 million in punitive damages to about 116,000 current
and former California employees for violating a 2001 state law that
requires employers to give 30-minute, unpaid lunch breaks to employees
who work at least six hours.

The damages were originally tallied as $207 million after a court clerk
misread the punitive damages as $150 million. The amount of punitive
damages was later clarified.

The class-action lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court is one of
about 40 nationwide alleging workplace violations by Wal-Mart, and the
first to go to trial. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer, which earned
$10 billion last year, settled a similar lawsuit in Colorado for $50

In the California lunch-break suit, Wal-Mart claimed that workers did
not demand penalty wages on a timely basis. Under the law, the company
must pay workers a full hour's wages for every missed lunch.

The company also said it paid some employees their penalty pay and, in
2003, most workers agreed to waive their meal periods as the law allows.

The lawsuit covers former and current employees in California from 2001
to 2005. The workers claimed they were owed more than $66 million plus
interest, and sought damages to punish the company for alleged wrongdoing.

Attorney Fred Furth, who brought the case on behalf of the workers, said
outside court that the jury "held Wal-Mart to account."

Wal-Mart attorney Neal Manne said the jury's verdict, reached after
nearly three days of deliberations and four months of testimony, would
likely be appealed.

He claimed the state law in question could only be enforced by
California regulators, not by workers in a courtroom. He added that
Wal-Mart did not believe the lunch law allowed for punitive damages.

"We absolutely disagree with their findings," Manne said of the jury's
verdict. He conceded that Wal-Mart made mistakes in not always allowing
for lunch breaks when the 2001 law took affect, but said the company is
"100 percent" in compliance now.

The lawsuit was filed by several former Wal-Mart employees in the San
Francisco Bay area in 2001, but it took four years of legal wrangling to
get to trial.

The verdict comes as the company is waging an intense public-relations
campaign to counter critics aiming to stop the retailer's expansion and
make it boost workers' salaries and benefits.

Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com, an union-affiliated
advocacy group that believes Wal-Mart's policies over wages, health
benefits and other issues harm families and communities, said he was
delighted by the verdict.

"It is a sad day when Wal-Mart provides these so-called low prices by
exploiting their workers and even the law," Blank said.

The company added lower-cost health insurance this year after an
internal memo surfaced that showed 46 percent of Wal-Mart employees'
children were on Medicaid or uninsured.

A federal lawsuit pending in San Francisco accuses the company of paying
men more than women.


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