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BREAKING: Supreme Court Denies Walmart the Right to Not Pay for Worker Rest Breaks

April 4, 2016

In December 2014, the anti-union, pro-charter Walton family’s cash cow, Walmart, was ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to pay workers roughly $188 million in restitution for requiring workers to regularly work without suitable meal and rest breaks.

In March 2015, Walmart appealed to the US Supreme Court to have the verdict reversed. As Top Class Actions reports:

Former Wal-Mart employees have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a $188 million verdict against the retail giant, asserting that Wal-Mart’s claim that the plaintiffs won as the result of an unfair “trial by formula” is without merit. …

In the Wal-Mart wage and hour class action lawsuit, two Wal-Mart employees sued Wal-Mart on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated employees for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The plaintiffs alleged they were not paid for meal breaks, and cited their Employee Handbook that hourly employees who work between three and six hours per shift must be paid for one short break, and hourly employees who work more than six hours per shift must be paid for two short breaks.

According to federal labor laws, an employee handbook is an enforceable document and employers are bound by the representations in the handbook. The Wal-Mart employees claimed that, contrary to their employee handbook, Wal-Mart frequently denied them their meal and short breaks and, when they did receive those breaks, they were not paid for that time.

Although federal law does not require employers to provide meal and short breaks, the FLSA requires employers that do offer meal and short breaks to pay their employees for interrupted meal breaks, i.e., meal periods in which employees perform work, and for all short breaks.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of Pennsylvania’s Superior Court that Wal-Mart’s employee handbook constituted a contract and that Wal-Mart had, among other labor law violations, breached that contract. …

On March 13, 2015, Wal-Mart filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court to review whether the Pennsylvania courts incorrectly subjected Wal-Mart to a “trial by formula” to produce class-wide “common” evidence on key elements of only six plaintiffs’ claims.

Wal-Mart’s legal team claims the retail giant’s right to due process was violated and that the wage and hour class action lawsuit was unfair since the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited a similar “trial by formula” defense in a 2011 case (Dukes v. Wal-Mart).

However, attorneys for the former Wal-Mart employees argue that Wal-Mart is trying to extend the Dukes v. Wal-Mart logic from arguing that a handful of employees can’t speak for the class to functionally arguing that every employee must speak for the class.

On April 04, 2016, the US Supreme Court denied Walmart’s petition that a handful of employees should not be allowed to speak for the entire class of employees whom Walmart exploited. (For more details on Walmart’s argument in its US Supreme Court appeal, see this 2011 suit, Walmart vs. Dukes et al., and the section from the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to which Dukes refers, Rule 23, Class Actions.)

In other words, even though Walmart works hard to kill unions among its employees, according to the US Supreme Court, it cannot kill the right of a class of employees to benefit from the few who legally pursue their rights as stated in Walmart’s own employee handbook.

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Coming June 2016 from TC Press:


school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Stay tuned.



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. southside teacher permalink

    How long till Walmart updates the employee handbook?

    • Donna permalink

      Exactly my thought. I work in an office and am not paid for lunch or breaks (actually breaks are not allowed unless you smoke, then you are allowed to take two 10 minute smoke breaks, which the smokers absolutely abuse). My spouse works in a warehouse without paid breaks or lunch as well. However, both our employers make these policies clear. I’m sure Walmart will take the short road to updating its handbook. Meanwhile, Walmart should include in its handbook how to apply for Obamacare, foodstamps, housing assistance. I do hear they have informal seminars on these last 3 issues.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Walmart Billionaires Lose in Supreme Court, Must Pay Workers for Rest Breaks. Tough Luck. | Diane Ravitch's blog

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