Philadelphia: Wal-Mart employees seek more damages

Wal-Mart employees seek more damages

Wal-Mart workers in Pennsylvania who won a $78.5 million judgment for working off the clock and through rest breaks returned to court Wednesday to seek another $62 million in damages.

They argue that the approximately 125,000 class members deserve an additional $500 each in damages under Pennsylvania labor laws because the jury found Wal-Mart acted in bad faith. The plaintiffs already are expected to receive from about $50 to a few thousand dollars each, depending on how long they worked for the company.

Lawyers for Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, say the class members do not meet the state statute’s requirements for so-called liquidated damages, which are designed to compensate people for the delay in payment.

It was not clear if Common Pleas Judge Mark Bernstein would immediately rule on the issue Wednesday afternoon or take it under advisement.

Bernstein oversaw the five-week trial, which culminated in October when the jury rejected Wal-Mart’s claim that some employees chose to work through breaks and that the off-the-clock work was minimal.

Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., earned $11.2 billion in profits on $312.4 billion in sales in the last fiscal year.

Plaintiffs lawyer Michael Donovan of Philadelphia argued at trial that the unpaid work gave Wal-Mart an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

Lead plaintiff Dolores Hummel said she worked about 10 hours each month off the clock to keep up with work demands at a Sam’s Club in Reading, where the single mother worked for 10 years to support her son. Sam’s Clubs are a division of Wal-Mart.

The suit covers current and former employees who worked at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Clubs in Pennsylvania from March 1998 through May 2006.

Wal-Mart is appealing a $172 million verdict in a similar California case and settled a Colorado suit over unpaid wages for $50 million.

Wal-Mart policy in Pennsylvania gives hourly employees one paid 15-minute break during a shift of at least three hours and two such breaks, plus an unpaid 30-minute meal break, on a shift of at least six hours.