10 Years After Verdict, Walmart Must Pay $151 Million To Employees Who Worked Off The Clock

A case that has been trickling through the state and federal court system for nearly 15 years came to an abrupt ending this morning, with the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to hear Walmart’s appeal of a 2006 verdict ordering the company to pay $151 million to Pennsylvania employees who worked off the clock.

The case dates back to 2002, when a former Walmart employee filed a class action against the nation’s largest retailer, alleging that Walmart workers were forced to work off the clock, through mandated break times, or through meal breaks.

Four years later, a jury sided with the plaintiffs on everything but the food break allegations and awarded the class — totaling more than 187,000 works — $151 million in damages (plus around $36 million to cover legal fees and costs).

Walmart has since spent the better part of a decade making its argument to various appeals courts that the verdict was the result of a “trial by formula,” meaning that instead of looking at all the specific individual instances in which breaks were missed or worked-through, the court listened to the testimony and analysis of statisticians who reviewed Walmart time sheets and determined the extent to which workers were harmed.

Walmart’s expert questioned this analysis, alleging that it failed to take into account things like people who didn’t clock in and out of a break even though they took one, or employees who voluntarily worked through breaks without being told to do so.

The retailer had previously convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to shoot down the “trial by formula” method. In 2011, in Wal-Mart v. Dukes [PDF], a few named plaintiffs sued the retailer over allegations of gender discrimination. A federal appeals court had ruled that a sample set of affected class members could be used to determine the company’s liability. The awarded back pay would be set by a third party and then multiplied by the number of members in the total class “without further individualized proceedings.”

But SCOTUS determined that this meant that Walmart would “not be entitled to litigate its statutory defenses to individual claims,” and ruled that the class should not have been certified to begin with.

However, in 2014, the PA Supreme Court held [PDF] that considerations of Walmart’s time clocks were different from the claims made against Walmart in Dukes.

Whereas, in the discrimination case, SCOTUS was concerned that Walmart was being pre-judged as liable to a large class through mere extrapolation, in the PA workers case, “the evidence of Wal-Mart’s liability to the entire class for breach of contract and WPCL violations was established at trial by presentation of Wal-Mart’s own universal employment and wage policies, as well as its own business records and internal audits.”

In 2015, the retailer hinted that it would take its appeal to the nation’s highest court, hoping to — as SCOTUS did in Dukes — ultimately have the class of plaintiffs decertified.

However, Walmart didn’t even get its day before the eight remaining SCOTUS justices. This morning, the court denied, without explanation, the company’s petition to have its appeal heard.

The Supremes’ decision to deny the petition means that the state Supreme Court ruling remains in place and these workers (and their lawyers) should finally be receiving their long-delayed payout.

In an emailed statement to Consumerist, Walmart writes, “We are disappointed the Supreme Court decided not to review our case. While we continue to believe these claims should not be bundled together in a class-action lawsuit, we respect the court’s decision. We will now determine how we move forward in the trial court.”

Walmart also contends that “Most of these claims are over 10 years old,” which seemed like an odd statement to make for a lawsuit that goes back nearly a decade and a half.

A rep for the retailer confirmed that this statement is referencing the fact that the lawsuit encompasses claims made between 1998 and 2006; and not that the claims themselves were old at the time of filing.

So in effect, Walmart is saying something akin to “Most kids that were born in 2006 or before are older than 10 years old.”

The company claims in a follow-up email that the reason for the “over 10 years old” statement was intended to “point out that the lawsuits were filed years ago and the allegations are not representative of the company we are today.”