(CNSNews.com) - The nation's largest retailer is preparing to appeal a $172 million judgment awarded Thursday to thousands of workers who claimed they were denied lunch breaks in violation of a 2001 California statute.
A jury in Alameda County, Calif., found that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., broke a state law requiring employers to give 30-minute, unpaid lunch breaks to employees who work at least six hours.
The decision in the class-action lawsuit orders the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer to pay $57 million in general damages and $115 million in punitive damages to about 116,000 current and former California employees. Under the law, the company must pay workers a full hour's wages for every missed lunch.
However, Wal-Mart officials claimed that workers did not demand penalty wages in a timely manner. The company also said it had paid some employees their penalty pay and, in 2003, most workers agreed to waive their meal periods as the law allows.
"Wal-Mart has acknowledged it had compliance issues when the statute became effective in 2001," the company said in a statement. "The problems were also experienced by other employers in the state."
In addition, "Wal-Mart has since taken steps to ensure all associates receive their meal periods, including adopting new technology that sends alerts to cashiers when it is time for their meal breaks," the statement noted. "The system will automatically shut down registers if the cashier does not respond."
Company officials also argued that "the meal-period premiums in question are penalties, rather than wages. This means that punitive damages cannot be recovered in this case" because "California law prohibits penalties on top of penalties."
Attorney Fred Furth, who brought the case on behalf of the workers, said Thursday that the jury "held Wal-Mart to account."
Also pleased by the verdict was Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com.
"Over one hundred thousand current and former Wal-Mart workers will finally get the justice they deserve and rightfully earned," Blank said. "It is a sad day when Wal-Mart provides these so-called low prices by exploiting their workers and even the law.
"Wal-Mart has already lost the battle in the court of public opinion, now Wal-Mart has lost the battle in a court of law as well," he stated. "The size of this verdict speaks loudly to the disdain Americans have for multi-billion-dollar company's needlessly exploiting their workers.
"Furthermore, this lawsuit is just the beginning of other class action lawsuits highlighting Wal-Mart's practice of unfairly or illegally exploiting their workers," Blank added.
See Earlier Stories:
Wal-Mart Supporters Form New Group to Counter Critics (Dec. 21, 2005)
Leaders of Faith Mark Holiday Season by Bashing Wal-Mart (Dec. 12, 2005)
Wal-Mart Critics Have Clashing Objectives (Nov. 25, 2005)
Pro-Union Group Tries to Discourage Wal-Mart Customers (Nov. 22, 2005)
Campaign Against Wal-Mart Hasn't Touched Profits (Nov. 15, 2005)
Union Group Launches 'Association' for Wal-Mart Workers (Nov. 4, 2005)
Protesters Target 'Shocking, Secret' Wal-Mart Memo (Oct. 28, 2005)
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