Wal-Mart Civil Suit Now Alleges Janitors Were Locked in Stores

February 3, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A civil rights suit filed against Wal-Mart last year was expanded Monday alleging that supervisors at the discount store chain locked janitors inside during their shifts, the AP reported.

A Wal-Mart lawyer denied the charges.

The suit was filed by illegal immigrants working for the company and the original claim said they were being paid sub-legal wages, $1,500 a month, and forced to work long hours, sometimes 70 in a seven-day work week. The lawsuit was amended Monday to include the allegation that janitors were being locked inside the stores.

A federal grand jury in Pennsylvania will determine whether Wal-Mart must face criminal charges for using illegal immigrants to clean the stores.

The suit seeks class-action status for possibly thousands of immigrants and was originally brought by 11 Mexican immigrants, with six Eastern Europeans added to the list Monday, according to the AP. The suit was filed last year after INS raids took place at multiple Wal-Mart stores across the county and found illegal immigrants, resulting in the arrest of hundreds of janitors, including all 17 plaintiffs in the civil suit, on immigration charges.

The lawsuit falls under the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, claiming that Wal-Mart systematically violated workers’ rights and later tried to protect itself from liability by routing employment through independent contractors, the AP said.

A lawyer for Wal-Mart did acknowledge that doors were kept locked, but maintained that there was always a manager with keys in the store. “This was simply an effort to keep the employees safe and keep the merchandise secure,” he said to the AP.

Wal-Mart has 3,500 stores nationwide with 1.2 million employees.