Christmas came early for current and former Wal-Mart employees with this good news. Wal-Mart has agreed to settle 63 wage and hour claims pending in various courts. Wal-Mart will pay between $350 million and $640 million to settle the pending cases. No word yet on how much any employee will receive. The settlements must still be approved by judges overseeing the various cases. Critics of Wal-Mart have long questioned whether it achieves its low prices at by chipping employees. Still, it’s a good day when a company steps up to do what is right–no one who works for wages should have to endure the death by a thousand paper cuts of small illegal wage deductions for work performed. The case illustrates the importance of wage and hour class actions. Employees who face illegal employment practices often can’t afford to pursue their small claims. But when those small claims are bundled into a class action, a company that makes money by chipping its employees can be forced to face up to a huge day of reckoning. That’s apparently what happened here. David Sugerman
Here’s a nice summary of an important trial result in Portland. Lois Whitmore, a healthy and active 78-year old Wal-Mart shopper suffered life-changing injuries when a Wal-Mart fixture fell and broke her foot. Before the injuries, Ms. Whitmore walked several miles a day, and after each step caused her pain.
Kudos to my friend and colleague, Greg Kafoury, for leading the way. Apparently the unanimous jury assessed her harms and losses to the dime requested by her attorneys, as they reportedly granted her every dollar that she sought.
Kafoury has a special way with cases against retailers. He’s had some marvelous results against Fred Meyer stores in the past.
The rule that Wal-Mart violated is a simple one. Retail businesses go to great lengths to get shoppers in the door. The rules require that retailers provide for the safety of shoppers. It’s a simple and sensible rule. If they’re going to invite you in to spend your money, they have to be responsible for the condition of the store.
Wal-Mart apparently violated the simple rule of retail. But according to the news report, they went one step further. Wal-Mart employees apparently testified under oath that Ms. Whitmore was sitting on an electric scooter shortly after they learned she was injured. They claimed that she had bumped over the display and caused her own injury.
But here’s the problem. Not a word of that appeared in their incident report, and instead that report–which would have been written at or near the time of the injury–reportedly said that she was sitting on a bench near the display, not on a scooter.
Seems like this is one of those trials that could have been avoided had Wal-Mart simply taken responsibility for their customer’s harms and losses. Guess they needed to hear it from the jury.
Some things are beyond comprehension. Comes today’s news, in the Wall Street Journal no less, that Wal-Mart sued a catastrophically-injured former employee for reimbursement of medical expenses. Here is a link: online.wsj.com/article/SB119551952474798582.html?mod=todays_us_nonsub_page_one
Reported on the front page, November 20, 2007, is the horrifying story of a woman who worked for Wal-Mart and received her health insurance through her employer. A big rig, with insufficient insurance, collided with her mini-van, and Deborah Shank was left brain damaged and confined to a wheel chair.
With the help of a lawyer, Mrs. Shank and her family settled her claim. The settlement wasn’t enough to take of her future medical needs, but it would have made a big difference in her future. And then Wal-Mart sued to be reimbursed for the money it had paid for her prior care.
Wal-Mart claimed an entitlement to every dollar that it paid even though it didn’t hire or pay for the lawyer that got the settlement for the Shank family. Wal-Mart claimed an entitlement to repayment even though the trucking company’s insufficient insurance did not cover all of Mrs. Shank’s harms and losses.
There is something very wrong with a system that allows an employer with Wal-Mart’s resources to step in and claim every penny while the injured person is left penniless and without care. The story relates that the Shanks divorced so that she could receive greater public assistance as a single woman.
So the law that allows Wal-Mart full reimbursement means that taxpayers foot the bill for Mrs. Shank’s care. Mrs. Shank did everything right. She worked, had insurance and didn’t cause the devastating crash. The trucking company skates, Wal-Mart gets more money, Mrs. Shanks suffers without care, and we get the bill.
David F. Sugerman