Wal­mart agrees to set­tle law­suit for $65 mil­lion

Pro­posed deal would end a class ac­tion by Cal­i­for­nia cashiers who weren’t al­lowed to sit while work­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By Aurora Per­can­nella aurora.per­can­nella@la­times.com Twit­ter: @au­rop­er­can­nella

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 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.

The pay­out per em­ployee would de­pend on how long the per­son worked a cashier job at Wal­mart dur­ing the last decade. Plain­tiffs’ at­tor­ney Charles A. Jones said some long­time work­ers might be able to re­ceive more than $1,000 each.

“Both sides are pleased to have reached a pro­posed res­o­lu­tion and look for­ward to the court grant­ing pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval to the set­tle­ment,” Wal­mart spokesman Randy Har­grove said in a state­ment.

Un­der the terms of the pro­posed agree­ment, set­tle­ment doc­u­ments could not be used against Wal­mart in fu­ture lit­i­ga­tion.

In 2016, Cal­i­for­nia’s Supreme Court found in fa­vor of CVS work­ers who wanted to sit down on the job.

“There is no prin­ci­pled rea­son for deny­ing an em­ployee a seat when he spends a sub­stan­tial part of his work­day at a sin­gle lo­ca­tion per­form­ing tasks that could rea­son­ably be done while seated, merely be­cause his job du­ties in­clude other tasks that must be done stand­ing,” Jus­tice Carol A. Cor­ri­gan wrote for the court.

Home De­pot, Tar­get, 99 Cents Only Stores and JP Mor­gan Chase Bank have faced sim­i­lar suits.

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