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PRAGUE - According to a U.S. lawyer, many Czechs and others who were illegal workers at Wal-Mart stores in the United States are joining a lawsuit against the world's largest retailer, seeking millions of dollars in compensation, AP reports.
At the close of a weeklong visit to Prague, attorney James L. Linsey announced late yesterday that he would "very soon" add names to a class action list of plaintiffs. Linsey and other lawyers filed the suit Nov. 10 on behalf of nine Mexicans, who were among 245 people from 18 countries taken into custody October in a 21-state raid targeting contract cleaning crews at 58 Wal-Mart stores. Most of those detained were Mexicans, who accounted for 90 arrests, but 35 workers came from the Czech Republic and many others were from other formerly Communist countries.
Linsey says that Wal-Mart conspired in a criminal enterprise by using contractors to violate the civil rights and wage protections of illegal immigrants hired to clean its stores. The majority immigrants had to work seven days a week, 365 days a year, with no medical coverage or overtime pay, according to Linsey. They received almost no money in the first few months of their employment, he said. Wal-Mart has denied any wrongdoing and says the lawsuit is without merit.
"We are especially concerned about allegations that undocumented workers were not treated fairly, whether they were from Mexico or eastern Europe or wherever," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams. "We are just very sorry that contractors we hired took advantage of the fact that they had no other job option or legal recourse. That's simply wrong."
Linsey traveled to the Czech Republic to find Czechs who were recruited to work at Wal-Mart. So far, he said, as many 28 Czechs have contacted him from among 200 workers around the world, including around 50 in the United States. "We are looking for the clients in terms of thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars," he said, adding that individual damages would be calculated based on the number of months or years worked. "For Wal-Mart, we're talking about millions of dollars," he said.
A Web site launched in various languages last month gives former Wal-Mart workers information about the lawsuit, according to Linsey. Many immigrants who have since returned to their native countries are willing to be named in the suit, and those who fear deportation would be identified by pseudonyms, he said.
The Czech Republic was the first country Linsey went to in his search for immigrants who used to work at Wal-Mart stores. He said he has discussed the matter with authorities in the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Poland.
In other Wal-Mart news, John Suarez, the Environmental Protection Agency's chief enforcement official, will resign his position Jan. 30 to become the general counsel of the Sam's club division of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., according to published sources. Suarez's resignation letter to President Bush gave no reason for his decision to leave, which follows his involvement in controversial decisions allowing coal-burning power plants more wiggle room to comply with clean air regulations. According to the agency, no successor has been named yet.