Wal­mart agrees to pay out $65 mil­lion to set­tle law­suit

The Mercury News - - News - By Aurora Per­can­nella

About 100,000 cur­rent and for­mer Wal­mart cashiers in Cal­i­for­nia might soon be el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive slices of a $65-mil­lion set­tle­ment that the re­tailer has agreed to pay af­ter be­ing ac­cused of fail­ing to pro­vide suit­able seat­ing for work­ers who want it.

The pro­posed set­tle­ment was filed in fed­eral court in San Fran­cisco this week. If a judge ap­proves it, it will end a heav­ily lit­i­gated class ac­tion that has lasted nearly a decade.

Filed in 2009 by Wal­mart em­ployee Nisha Brown, the law­suit al­leges that the re­tail gi­ant has been in vi­o­la­tion of a 2001 Cal­i­for­nia wage or­der that pro­vides for em­ploy­ees to be given “suit­able seats when the na­ture of the work rea­son­ably per­mits.”

Wal­mart de­nies wrong­do­ing. The pro­posed set­tle­ment says that the re­tailer still believes the na­ture of the work per­formed by its cashiers does not rea­son­ably per­mit the use of a seat. It has pre­vi­ously ar­gued that work­ers need to be able to move around to greet cus­tomers, look in­side carts and stock shelves. The com­pany has also ar­gued that seat­ing makes cashiers less ef­fi­cient, that cus­tomers pre­fer cashiers who stand and that pro­vid­ing seat­ing to its cashiers would cause a sig­nif­i­cant loss of rev­enue.

Both sides want to set­tle the case to avoid pro­long­ing a long-run­ning, costly dis­pute with un­cer­tain out­comes, the plain­tiffs’ at­tor­ney said in a court fil­ing.

The pro­posed set­tle­ment in­cludes a com­mit­ment by Wal­mart to be­gin a pi­lot pro­gram that would pro­vide stools for its Cal­i­for­nia cashiers “who ex­press a de­sire to use them.” It would have to tell its cashiers in Cal­i­for­nia that seat­ing is avail­able and not dis­crim­i­nate or re­tal­i­ate against work­ers who sit.

Any Cal­i­for­nia cashier em­ployed by Wal­mart be­tween June 11, 2008, and the date the set­tle­ment is ap­proved would be el­i­gi­ble to claim part of the set­tle­ment money. That’s about 100,000 peo­ple, court fil­ings say.

The law­suit was filed un­der Cal­i­for­nia’s Pri­vate At­tor­ney Gen­er­als Act, which al­lows em­ploy­ees to sue their em­ployer also on be­half of other em­ploy­ees and the state. Un­der the act, em­ploy­ees are en­ti­tled to a quar­ter of the sum awarded to plain­tiffs, while the re­main­ing amount goes to the Cal­i­for­nia La­bor and Work­force De­vel­op­ment Agency.

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