Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Where There's Smoke, There's Not Always Fire - Wal-Mart Prevails In Wage and Hour Trial

Having lost the liability phase on whether employees were forced to work overtime off the clock, Wal-Mart fared much better the second time around, when the focus was on each individual's claim. Of the 108 claimants, 24 were denied any recovery and the remaining 84 were able to establish only 700 hours collectively. Although the court has ordered the parties to try to stipulate to an hourly rate, even at $10 an hour the overtime award would be just over $10,000 total. Even doubling it because of liquidated damages, would give a paltry sum for the amount of energy that has been expended. It will be interesting to see what the court awards plaintiffs' counsel in attorneys fees. If tied to the result, which is one factor to be considered, it could be relatively minimal.

Although the story in the Oregonian is headlined, "Jury says Wal-Mart must pay overtime," the real story is the impact that this case may have in the future. Being willing to shell out what must have been a substantial sum for its own attorneys fees and the time of its executives, may ultimately pay substantial dividends in the form of cases not brought in the future. It may also encourage other employers with the resources to fight rather than roll over.

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