Pa. appeals court upholds $188M Wal-Mart verdict

AP News
Posted: Jun 10, 2011 6:50 PM
Pa. appeals court upholds $188M Wal-Mart verdict

A $188 million class-action verdict against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sam's Club over payment to employees for rest breaks and off-the-clock work was upheld Friday by a Pennsylvania appeals court.

A three-judge Superior Court panel said there was sufficient evidence at trial to conclude there had been a breach of contract, unjust enrichment and violations of state labor laws.

The judges also ruled in a 211-page opinion that the presiding Philadelphia judge erred in determining some of the plaintiffs' legal fees, and sent that part of the case back for recalculation.

The 2006 trial, which lasted 32 days, resulted in a finding that Wal-Mart did not pay employees for all the work they performed and did not let them take their paid, mandatory rest breaks, the judges wrote. The court awarded $46 million in attorneys' fees.

Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Rossiter said the retail giant believes the court decision was wrong in a number of respects and looks forward to additional review in the courts.

"We're committed to paying our associates for every hour they work, and providing them with meal and rest breaks, too," Rossiter said. "That's our policy and we take it very seriously."

The heart of the case was statistical analysis of Wal-Mart computer records used to demonstrate that breaks went unused, said Michael Donovan, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. The plaintiffs are 187,000 current and former company employees in Pennsylvania.

"It's sort of a classic case against the coal mine owners, so to speak," he said Friday. "It's a historical case that you see repeated in history time and time again, which is, the more powerful party has taken advantage of the least powerful and is shorting them on their wages."

On appeal, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company argued there was not "commonality and predominance" needed for class-action certification, among other claims.

Rossiter said the company has settled numerous lawsuits in other states that involved similar allegations, and the Philadelphia case is the only active one that he knows of.