Employee Suits Spring Up At Wal-Mart

August 9, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The nation's largest employer suddenly finds itself at the center of a number of discrimination and harassment suits from a number of its workers and former workers.

In the most recent action a former employee has accused Wal-Mart of unfair labor practices.   The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, alleges that employees were forced to work off the clock and denied overtime and seeks back pay for each hour they were required to work unpaid, including overtime.

It further charges that the Benton, Arkansas-based retailing giant underpaid employees, by keeping employees locked in the stores after they had clocked out, requiring that they continue working until assigned tasks were completed.

In addition to the above allegations, Maria Gamble, the plaintiff named in the case, charges that while she worked as a customer service manager for Wal-Mart, she was also required to attend uncompensated meetings and training and was denied overtime pay, meal and rest breaks.

Clock Work

Wal-Mart denies the allegations, maintaining that the group has a strict policy prohibiting employees from working off the clock. A spokesman for Wal-Mart noted that supervisors who violate this policy are subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal.

Lawyers for the plaintiff claim that Wal-Mart managers pressure employees to complete assignments off the clock through intimidation, threats of discharge and demotion, adding that the retailer provides perverse incentives for managers to lower overhead costs, such as employee payroll, by offering financial compensation and bonuses.

But Wal-Mart counters that keeping costs low is a normal business practice that does not conflict with compensating employees for hours worked.

The suit was filed on behalf of about 20,000 current and past employees of 83 New York Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores, and is similar to cases against the company pending in 11 other states.

Case Load

The charges come on the heels of a suit filed yesterday by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the retailing giant under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In that suit, the EEOC alleges that Wal-Mart discriminated against a job applicant, who uses a wheelchair, charging that the retailer refused to refused to hire or accept an application from James Bernard, of western Missouri, because of his disability