A Minnesota district judge has ordered Wal-Mart to pay $6.5 million in back pay to employees. It’s the third time in a row that the retail giant has lost a wage and hour class-action lawsuit filed by employees.
In the Minnesota case of Braun v. Wal-Mart Inc., Nancy Braun and three other plaintiffs represented 56,000 current and former hourly employees in the class action, including themselves. The employees worked at Wal-Mart (or its subsidiary, Sam’s Club) between September 11, 1998 and January 31, 2004.
The plaintiffs and their attorneys presented tons of evidence, including payroll records, tax records, company reports, memos and emails, to prove that the world’s largest retailer forced them to work “off the clock” during training sessions and deprived them of full rest and meal breaks.
According to the ruling by District Judge Robert King Jr., several sources had officially warned Wal-Mart that it was violating wage and hour laws. Additionally, Wal-Mart’s own internal audit had indicated that the
company was also breaching its employment contract with employees regarding rest breaks.
Nevertheless, company officials still failed to rectify the situation, according to Judge King. He said, “In essence, they put their heads in the sand.” As a result, Wal-Mart willfully violated Minnesota state labor laws more than two million times, according to King.
The first Minnesota trial was for Judge King to determine how much Wal-Mart owed the 56,000 employees in back pay. The judge ordered Wal-mart to again appear in a Minnesota court on October 20, this time for a trial by jury, to determine additional damages and statutory fines. At up to $1000 per violation under Minnesota labor law, Wal-Mart’s statutory fines alone could rack up to more than $2 billion.
In 2005 and 2006, Wal-Mart lost similar employee lawsuits in California and Pennsylvania, respectively, for a total of $250 million. The retailer has appealed both of those jury verdicts and is considering appealing Judge King’s ruling.
Employees have filed over 70 wage and hour, class-action and individual lawsuits against the bad boy of retail, the most that employees have ever filed against a single employer.