Dec. 23, 2005 – After three days of deliberations, a California jury yesterday found Wal-Mart guilty of illegally denying workers lunch breaks. The jury awarded $172 million to about 116,000 current and former employees of the retail behemoth after plaintiffs argued that the company had violated their rights on some 8 million occasions.
In 2001, several former employees filed the class-action lawsuit over what worker advocates term "time theft," alleging that Wal-Mart deprived workers of full 30-minute lunch breaks required under California law. Employers operating in California must give employees a 30-minute, unpaid lunch break if they work six hours or more in a day.
"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," WakeUpWalMart.com campaign director Paul Blank said in a statement yesterday. The group is a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has been engaged in a long-running and so-far-unsuccessful effort to organize Wal-Mart workers.
"The size of this verdict speaks loudly to the disdain Americans have for multi-billion-dollar companies needlessly exploiting their workers," Blank added.
Shortly after the verdict was announced, Wal-Mart released a statement vowing to appeal the ruling and maintaining that it is now in full compliance with the law.