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Wal-Mart $187M Verdict: Denied Meal, Rest Breaks

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

A Pennsylvania appeals court has upheld a $187.6 million Wal-Mart verdict. The suit was filed by employees, who claimed that if you worked for retail giant Wal-Mart, meal breaks and rest breaks were regularly cut.

The appeals court affirmed the lower court's finding that Wal-Mart's actions violated state wage and hour laws, Bloomberg reports.

The class action represented about 187,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees who worked in Pennsylvania between 1998 and 2006, according to Reuters.

Named plaintiffs Dolores Hummel and Michele Braun alleged that Wal-Mart store managers routinely pressured them to entirely skip their required breaks or cut them short, according to Bloomberg. The women's attorneys argued that the company had forced workers to skip about 33 million rest breaks between 1998 and 2001 in an effort to cut costs and increase productivity.

Wal-Mart, in trying to defend its case, apparently also tried to argue that their own business records were so unreliable and inaccurate that they should not be used, Judith Spanier, one of the plaintiff's attorneys, told Reuters.

While the $187.6 million verdict is probably one of the largest single Wal-Mart has faced over meal breaks and rest breaks, Wal-Mart has previously agreed to pay about $640 million in damages in 2008 to settle around 60 other state and federal lawsuits over missed breaks, according to Bloomberg.

What did Wal-Mart do wrong? Well, if all the facts in the complaint are true - and apparently a Pennsylvania jury thought they were - they were violating state law by encouraging employees to cut their meal breaks and not take their rest breaks. Many states have laws that require employers to give employees certain breaks throughout the work day. Not all of these breaks may be paid, and many states require only unpaid breaks. But, breaks are usually required - and must be given, otherwise employees can file suit.

The Wal-Mart verdict may very well mean that the company will be more careful in the future. But, denying employees their rights is not something that only happens at Wal-Mart. Meal breaks and rest breaks are routinely the issue in many employee lawsuits.

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