Wal-Mart Hit with $6.5M Payment in MN Comp Case

July 2, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Minnesota state judge awarded $6.5 million in compensatory damages to Wal-Mart workers in the state after finding the giant retailer violated state labor laws more than two million times by not giving employees meal and rest breaks.

An American Lawyer news report said Minnesota District Court Judge Robert R. King Jr issued the decision after a three-month non-jury trial in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of about 56,000 Minnesota Wal-Mart workers .

According to the report, the company faces a second trial in October on state law violations – this time in front of a jury. Minnesota’s statute provides for fines of up to $1,000 per violation of state labor law, so Wal-Mart’s liability could total more than $2 billion with the funds going to state coffers. Any punitive damages will be awarded to class members at the second trial.

“We are pleased that the court in Minnesota ruled in Wal-Mart’s favor on many points before, during, and after trial,” asserted Wal-Mart spokesperson Daphne Moore in an e-mail statement to the newspaper. “We respectfully disagree with portions of the decision. As part of the order, the court invited both parties to file an appeal, and we are considering that option.”

Lawyers for the class depict King’s ruling as a victory for the plaintiffs, even though King did not give them everything they wanted.  “He found for us on the basic premise of the case,” said attorney William Sieben. “He said that employees didn’t get rest breaks and didn’t get meal breaks.”

Sieben said the plaintiffs’ lawyers chose to try the liability phase of the case without a jury because the expected length of the trial “would have been a great burden to jurors.” He also asserted that Wal-Mart is unlikely to succeed in an appeal of King’s 151-page ruling. “He did a very thorough, painstaking job,” Sieben said.

King’s ruling follows a $172 million jury verdict against Wal-Mart in California in 2005 and a $78 million jury verdict in Pennsylvania in 2006 (See  PA Jury Finds Wal-Mart Violated Labor Laws ).