The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed a $151 million jury award against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The case involved allegation of wage theft against the retail giant. Wage theft refers to the practice of employers illegally withholding wages or denying benefits that are rightfully owed to an employee.
On appeal, Wal-Mart argued that the court should have required more than 187,000 plaintiff workers to testify individually about the damages they suffered due to their wage-theft claims. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed with the retail store’s argument and upheld lower and appellate court decisions.
The plaintiffs alleged that Wal-Mart did not pay Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club employees in accordance with its own written policies. According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, both parties presented evidence on that issue and Wal-Mart’s liability was proven on a class-wide basis. The trial court assessed damages based on a computation of the average rate of an employee’s pay, which was about eight dollars per hour, and multiplied that by the number of hours for which pay should have been received but was not.
According to the plaintiffs in the case, between 1998 and 2006 these Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club workers were often pressured to work off-the-clock during all or part of their break time. Allegedly, these systemic violations of wage-and-hour laws were intended to boost company profits.
Wal-Mart, which has improved its timekeeping systems over the last decade, is considering appealing this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The company says it properly pays its 1.3 million employees.
Wage theft has a disparate impact on low wage workers, who often fear that challenging the pressure to work off-the-clock will lead to job loss. National and state regulators have made combatting wage theft a priority, and will continue to prosecute businesses who violate labor laws.
If your employer is not paying you minimum wage or requiring you to work without pay, consult with an experienced employment law attorney.