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Jury award $54.6m in suit against WalMart

The 9th Circuit Court recently affirmed the San Francisco jury trial award of $54.6 million to long-haul truckers working for WalMart. According to news reports, this award is for damages plus interest for not paying the drivers during rest breaks, layovers and the inspections of their semi-trucks. The ruling by the three-judge panel was a 2-1 decision to support the jury award. The 16-day trial that featured a robust number of motions is likely the conclusion of litigation that lasted 12 years.

Next steps

It appears that the company will not appeal to the Supreme Court. However, the plaintiffs may wish to appeal because the court did not award liquidated damages, which could double the size of the award. The court did determine that WalMart acted in good faith and generally complied with state labor laws.

The heart of the class-action suit

WalMart’s drivers earn $80,000 to $100,000 annually, which is above the industry average. Nevertheless, four drivers filed a lawsuit in 2008, claiming that the company did not comply with California labor laws. The plaintiffs base this assertion on the company's rule that required drivers to sleep in their trucks during layovers between shifts.

According to a representative of the drivers: “Basically they made them work as unpaid security guards, watching over their trucks." This was partially inaccurate because the company paid drivers an extra $42 to sleep in the truck.

Long-haul truck drivers are often paid by the mile, so that did not include the time that drivers spent in lines waiting for inspection or during rest breaks, which is illegal. The plaintiffs also pointed out that California law requires employers to pay at least minimum wage at all times if the employee is under the control of the employer.

Compliance sometimes hard to determine

Business practices do need to follow labor laws, but there can be grey areas related to specific job descriptions. This was the case with WalMart’s truck drivers and can be so with other businesses here in California. Companies with questions about these and other employment law matters can contact an attorney who can help determine the best approach to achieving legal compliance.

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