PA Judge Approves Class in Wal-Mart Break Pay Case

January 4, 2006 ( - Wal-Mart now faces a class action lawsuit in Pennsylvania that charges employees weren't paid as required for rest and meal breaks taken over the past seven years.

A decision by Pennsylvania state judge Mark Bernstein comes just after a California jury heard four months of testimony and then awarded a class of Wal-Mart employees $172 million – also over allegations the workers weren’t properly compensated for their rest breaks (See  Golden State Jury Hits Wal-Mart with $172M Verdict in Lunch Break Case ), the Legal Intelligencer reported.

Local class counsel Michael Donovan in Philadelphia said he believes the Keystone State class could eventually include nearly 150,000 current and former employees of the retail giant’s Pennsylvania stores since March 1998.

A Wal-Mart spokesman told The Legal Intelligencer that any store manager who does not follow the company’s policy on employee break time will be subject to termination. “We strongly deny the allegations in this lawsuit,” said company spokesman Kevin Thornton. “Wal-Mart’s policy is to pay associates for every minute they work. Certifying this as a class does not mean that the company has done anything wrong or improper. There has been no ruling on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims.”

Bernstein concluded in the Pennsylvania case that Wal-Mart’s own computerized time sheet records had helped the plaintiffs make their prima facie case that breaks were routinely missed and that employees were not compensated after missing them.

“Although this court was offered a few carefully selected snippets of videotaped deposition testimony, it is certainly improper to decide credibility on this basis,” Bernstein wrote. “Neither would it be proper to deny certification because this court concluded that the plaintiffs have not proven their case to the satisfaction of the court sitting as if conducting a nonjury trial.”

Bernstein has ordered that discovery be wrapped up by the end of June and that trial will begin in early September.

Donovan told the Legal Intelligencer that if the action is successful, recovery for individual class members could range from $100 to thousands of dollars.