updated 2/21/2006 3:34:25 PM ET 2006-02-21T20:34:25

A state appeals court on Tuesday denied class-action status to a lawsuit brought by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. employees who claimed they were forced to work through breaks.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2001, sought compensation on behalf of tens of thousands current and former Wal-Mart employees in Wisconsin for working through meal and rest breaks.

Similar cases have been filed across the country with varied success. A California jury awarded $172 million to Wal-Mart workers who were illegally denied lunch breaks last year, and Wal-Mart settled a similar case in Colorado for $50 million. Others have been denied class-action status.

In Wisconsin, the District 1 Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday the proposed class of workers would be “unmanageable.” The only way to determine if employees missed breaks is to examine time-clock entries created by the employees themselves, the court noted, and Wal-Mart is entitled to have each employees’ case examined by a jury.

“This would require not only the examination of each and every member of the proposed class, but, also, their co-workers and supervisors, and in some or many cases, their friends and family,” the court wrote in upholding a circuit court judge’s ruling.

Noting that there are 86,000 former and current Wal-Mart employees in Wisconsin, the court said, “To say that such a trial would be unmanageable is somewhat akin to saying that the sun is warm or that the universe is large.”

The ruling means thousands of workers with similar claims cannot join the lawsuit filed by three Wal-Mart employees or benefit from any monetary settlement in the case.

Bill Dixon, a lawyer for the employees, said the lawsuit needs class action status because many of the workers are owed under $100 and claims so small are a waste of time on their own. He said he was considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

If allowed to stand, the ruling means “Wal-Mart will not be called to account in a courtroom for not granting their employees what they promised them,” he said.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark said the company is pleased the appeals court agreed the case is not appropriate for class certification.

“We work hard to pay hourly associates for every minute they work, and they are encouraged and obligated to report any off-the-clock work to upper management,” Clark said in a statement. “A notice with instructions on how to do this is posted beside every time clock.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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