A Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in mid-December upholding a nearly $188 million judgment against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for denying breaks to its workers signals a split with federal courts over standards for bringing class actions, and could cause new claims to be pursued in the state court system.
While Wal-Mart claimed that it was denied due process rights after it was subjected to a trial in which plaintiffs used data from a handful of its Pennsylvania stores to extrapolate damages for all of its 187,000 employees in the state, the justices found that the evidence supported a judgment entered against the company in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in November 2007.
While Wal-Mart argued that the case was foreclosed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the Pennsylvania justices agreed that the instant case could be distinguished. The justices said that while Dukes involved a universal Wal-Mart policy barring discrimination that was only sometimes followed, the evidence in the instant case supported an inference that managers companywide were pressured to increase profits by understaffing stores. Those across-the-board factors impeded workers’ ability to take scheduled breaks, according to the opinion.
The cases are Braun v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. et al., case number 32 EAP 2012; and Hummel v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. et al., case number 33 EAP 2012; both in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.