Jury bills Wal-Mart

October 14, 2006|By McClatchy-Tribune

PHILADELPHIA -- A Philadelphia jury awarded $78.5 million to current and former employees of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Pennsylvania stores yesterday to compensate them for time they worked without pay and for missed rest breaks.

"Justice was served," said former employee Jacqueline Copeland, 25, of South Philadelphia, who testified that she was worked so hard at a Wal-Mart store that she couldn't take a break to use the bathroom.

On Thursday, after a six-week trial, the Pennsylvania Common Pleas Court jury found that Wal-Mart failed to pay employees for their rest breaks as promised. The company also forced employees to work off the clock, the jury found.

The world's largest retailer and Pennsylvania's largest private employer did provide unpaid meal breaks, the jury said.

The jurors in the class action case - in behalf of about 187,000 workers at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in Pennsylvania - also found that the discount retailer knowingly received an unfair benefit from not paying the employees.

Wal-Mart faces more damages in the case. Judge Mark I. Bernstein will award additional penalties in connection with state wage-and-hour and contractual laws. Plaintiffs' lawyers are seeking about $62 million in additional damages, or about $500 per worker.

In making its decision, the jury gave the award proposed by plaintiffs' attorney Michael D. Donovan, of Donovan Searles LLC in Philadelphia. Wal-Mart attorney Neal S. Manne, of Houston, had suggested that $8 million would be enough to compensate Wal-Mart employees.

In a statement yesterday afternoon, Wal-Mart said it would appeal the verdict and said it should not be penalized when employees choose to skip rest breaks, as some employees testified they did.

"Wal-Mart's systems have been improved over the years to help ensure that all associates receive their scheduled breaks," the statement said.

The case covers pay missed between March 1998 and May 2006. Lawyers are to petition Bernstein for their fees later.

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