Tuesday July 1, 2:17 pm ET
Wal-Mart Ordered to Pay $6.5 Million in Back Pay in Dakota County Class Action
MINNEAPOLIS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Law firms Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand, LLP and Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, P.A., today announced that Dakota County District Court Judge Robert King, Jr. has found that Wal-Mart violated Minnesota’s Fair Labor Standards Act over 2 million times. He also awarded over $6.5 million in damages to approximately 56,000 current and former Minnesota Wal-Mart employees who claimed that Wal-Mart denied them the ability to take rest breaks and meal breaks and forced them to work off the clock.
“We are very pleased that Judge King found that Wal-Mart not only breached its own contract with its hourly workers, but repeatedly and willfully violated numerous Minnesota wage and hour statutes,” said Justin Perl of Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand in Minneapolis and William Sieben of Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben in Minneapolis, co-lead counsel for the class. Sieben & Perl began the lawsuit on September 10, 2001 and the case was tried to Judge King in the fall of 2007.
“I knew that this would be a struggle when we started, but little did I know how hard and long this was going to be,” said Nancy Braun, one of four representative plaintiffs in the case entitled Braun v. Wal-Mart. “I was treated like so many of my co-workers,” said Braun. “There was just too much work to do and never enough time to do it. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to take the breaks we were entitled to,” said Braun of Rochester, Minnesota.
Judge King found that Wal-Mart repeatedly and willfully violated Minnesota labor laws or its contract with its employees on the issues of contractual rest breaks, statutory meal breaks, shaving time from paid rest breaks and failure to maintain accurate records. He has ordered a second phase of the trial to begin on October 20, 2008, to allow a jury to determine the amount of punitive damages and the amount of statutory penalties to be imposed against Wal-Mart. Minnesota’s wage and hour laws allow for a penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation. Judge King found there to be over 2 million violations. If the jury awards the full $1,000 penalty, the award could be in excess of $2 billion.
In his Order, Judge Robert King found that Wal-Mart was aware that their employees were not receiving breaks to which they were entitled. King states in his Order, “In essence, they put their heads in the sand.” Judge King found that Minnesota law requires every employer to provide its employees with a sufficient time to eat a meal. King stated, “No time to eat a meal is not a sufficient time to eat a meal.” King found that Wal-Mart violated the meal break law 73,864 times.
“This first award from Judge King is just the beginning,” said Sieben. “This award only reimburses these employees for compensation they should have already received from Wal-Mart. The next phase of the trial will be to punish and penalize Wal-Mart for willfully violating the rights of these 56,000 people whose average wage was under $10 an hour.”
“This case took over six years to get to trial, after more than 100 depositions across the country, 200 contested motions and a three month trial,” said Perl. “We are thrilled that our efforts on behalf of these employees were successful. Not only does this award help our individual clients, but it sends a message to Wal-Mart that it must pay for its mistakes and that there are consequences for willfully depriving its hourly workers of their contractual benefits and statutory rights.”
This verdict follows two other verdicts against Wal-Mart. In 2005, a California jury awarded 175 million dollars in actual and punitive damages. In 2006, a Philadelphia judge and jury awarded 140 million dollars against Wal-Mart for violations of Pennsylvania law.
“This case stands for the proposition that the largest and most profitable retailer in the world has to follow the same laws and honor its contracts just the same as any other business in America,” said Sieben.
Another lawyer on the team from Maslon, Jon Parritz, stated: “This has been nearly a seven-year struggle, but every minute has been worth it. We particularly look forward to the next phase of the trial where a jury will be able to punish Wal-Mart for its deliberate disregard of its workers rights and for Wal-Mart’s repeated misconduct.”
“It’s only courts of law that can make Wal-Mart live up to its word and follow the laws,” said Perl. “Wal-Mart has spent the nearly seven years of this case putting its head in the sand and denying these serious violations. It’s the legal system that keeps Wal-Mart honest and we are confident that a jury will punish and penalize Wal-Mart accordingly.”
Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand, LLP
Justin H. Perl, Esq., 612-672-8372
Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, P.A.
William R. Sieben, Esq., 612-344-0305
Snow Communications, Inc.
Joshua Schneck, 612-337-0748
Source: Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand, LLP