Braun v. Wal-Mart: $187 Million Verdict Affirmed

RSS Feed

Pennsylvania’s Superior Court has affirmed the jury verdict against Wal-Mart in a rare class action trial. The class members alleged that, as hourly workers, they regularly and systematically were not paid by Wal-Mart for “off-the-clock” work and they were not provided with rest breaks in compliance with Pennsylvania law. See Braun v. Wal-Mart Stores, No. 3373 EDA 2007 (Pa. Super. Ct. June 10, 2011) (opinion available here).

The named plaintiffs sought to represent a class of approximately 187,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees in Pennsylvania, and the court granted the plaintiffs’ class certification motion. When the parties did not reach a settlement, the case went to trial, and the jury found in favor of the class as to both the off-the-clock and rest break claims. The total award of $187,648,589 included statutory penalties and attorneys’ fees. But for the correction of a minor mathematical error, the portion of the award to be paid to class members was unaltered by the Superior Court’s decision. The attorneys’ fees portion of the decision was remanded to the trial court with instructions that a proper calculation of the lodestar multiplier be conducted.

The rest break claim is notable because it was grounded in a contract theory, rather than relying solely on a statutory violation. The class alleged that Wal-Mart had promised employees paid rest breaks but systematically failed to provide those breaks. On appeal, Wal-Mart argued that both the promise of paid breaks and any failure of Wal-Mart to have delivered them raised individual issues, rendering class treatment inappropriate. The appellate court disagreed, affirming the trial court’s grant of certification.

Wal-Mart also unsuccessfully challenged the jury’s findings of fact. In finding liability on the rest break claim, the jury accepted as credible plaintiffs’ evidence showing that pressure from Wal-Mart’s home office in Arkansas to reduce labor costs directly resulted in the deprivation of paid rest breaks that Wal-Mart was contractually obligated to provide. The appellate court affirmed this as a reasonable and thus permissible factual inference.