Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., has announced that it will pay a minimum of $352 million to settle wage and hour lawsuits across the country, possibly the largest such settlement ever. The 63 wage and hour class-action lawsuits that are being settled have been pending for several years, according to a statement from the company.
Each of the settlements is subject to approval by the trial court. The total settlement amount will depend on the amount of claims submitted by class members, according to the company statement. The total will be at least $352 million and no more than $640 million. Also, as part of the settlements, Wal-Mart has agreed to continue to use electronic systems and other measures to maintain compliance with wage and hour laws.
“Many of these lawsuits were filed years ago and the allegations are not representative of the company we are today,” said Tom Mars, executive vice president and general counsel for Wal-Mart. “Our policy is to pay associates for every hour worked and to provide rest and meal breaks. This is a commitment we make to the more than 1.4 million associates who choose to work for Wal-Mart and serve our customers and members every day. We have worked hard to have the right communication, processes, and systems in place to help us live up to this commitment.”
The lawsuits accused the company of forcing employees to work off the clock, changing employee timecards, and preventing employees from taking breaks promised in company policies or required by state laws. The settlement comes on the heels of a $54.25 million settlement covering 100,000 current and former employees in Minnesota who accused the company of making them work through breaks and work off the clock.
The class-action suits against Wal-Mart have been closely watched by union interests. Wal-Mart Watch, a union-supported group, is calling the settlement agreement evidence of the need for Wal-Mart workers to unionize. “The company’s decision to settle these cases so suddenly is clearly driven by the knowledge that having such cases pending is strong evidence of the need for the Employee Free Choice Act,” Wal-Mart Watch Executive Director David Nassar said after the settlement announcement. “If these millions of workers had been allowed union representation, they never would have had to hire lawyers and wait years to get their paychecks.”