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BENTONVILLE, Ark. - A jury in Philadelphia sided with two former Wal-Mart workers yesterday in a lawsuit that accused Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. of violating state labor laws by forcing employees to work through rest breaks and off the clock. The suit is one of many wage-and-hour suits that have been filed in the U.S. against the world's largest retailer.
The ex-employees sued Wal-Mart on behalf of almost 187,000 current and former hourly employees in Pennsylvania. Jurors are now considering awarding damages that could reach up to $162 million, according to published reports.
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The suit claimed that Wal-Mart made workers skip more than 33 million rest breaks from 1998 to 2001 to boost productivity and save money. During the trial, former employees testified that they were pressured by store managers to pass on breaks and cut meals short. Two cashiers claimed they were locked in stores after their shifts ended and forced to restock merchandise before they could leave.
The jury found in Wal-Mart's favor on the claim for missed meal breaks, however.
Wal-Mart denied the former employees' claims, saying the company required workers to take scheduled breaks and didn't ignore employees' complaints. Company officials said records appeared to show that workers were shortchanged only because some chose not to take breaks or neglected to sign out.
Wal-Mart's policy states that 30-minute meal periods are unpaid and awarded after six hours of work. Rest breaks are paid, with employees who work more than six hours allowed two 15-minute periods.
More than 70 similar wage-and-hour suits have been filed in the U.S. against Wal-Mart, according to reports.
Wal-Mart critic group WakeUpWalMart.com issued a statement after the verdict was announced. "We are pleased that a Pennsylvania court ... joined other states in finding that Wal-Mart's exploitation of its employees is not only morally wrong, but illegal as well," said Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com. "Unfortunately, Wal-Mart's violations come as no surprise. Wal-Mart has a long record of needlessly exploiting its workers and faces over 57 lawsuits for wage and hour abuses in 40 states. In addition, Wal-Mart is the subject of the largest gender discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history, affecting more than 2 million current and former female Wal-Mart workers who are suing over pay and promotion discrimination."