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PA Supreme Court Upholds $151 Million Wage-and-Hour Verdict Against Wal-Mart

December 22, 2014

By Richard G. Poulson

In a victory for workers seeking fair pay for an honest day’s work, on Dec. 15, 2014 the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld a $151 million Philadelphia County court judgment against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. for failing to pay its workers for time spent working through their unpaid breaks and meal periods.    

The Wal-Mart action (Braun v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Hummell v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.) originally was filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. The 187,979 plaintiffs in the case alleged myriad and systematic wage-and-hour violations by the notorious anti-union retailer dating back to 1998, resulting in hundreds of millions in unpaid wages for work done during breaks and meal periods. In addition to breach of contract claims, the plaintiffs also alleged violations of Pennsylvania’s Wage Payment and Collection Law and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act.

Before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Wal-Mart argued that the case should not have been brought as a class action, but instead should have been pursued via thousands of individual cases. According to Wal-Mart, the lower court subjected it to an inappropriate "trial by formula" that they alleged was prohibited by the U.S. Supreme Court in an unrelated 2011 case against Wal-Mart.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed, finding that there was ample evidence in the record to support plaintiffs’ claims of systemic wage-and-hour violations, including testimony by several Wal-Mart employees and the company’s own payroll records. According to the court, “this was not a case of 'trial by formula' or of a class action ‘run amok.’" Rather, the evidence established an environment in which Wal-Mart managers “were pressured to increase profits and decrease payroll [in a manner that] impeded the ability of employees . . . to take scheduled, promised, rest breaks.”

Wal-Mart has promised an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, however, the matter has been remanded to the lower court to address attorneys’ fees. 

While the rules that determine who is entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay and which hours count as “hours worked” may be complex, even the largest employers can be brought to justice if they fail to properly compensate their workers, as the Wal-Mart dispute shows. If you have any questions concerning your employer’s pay practices, or any other employment issue, you should feel free to contact an Employment Law attorney at Willig, Williams & Davidson.

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