Image: Michele Braun, left, Patricia Holley, Jacqueline Copeland, and Delores Killingsworth-Barber
Matt Rourke  /  AP
Plaintiffs, Michele Braun, left, Patricia Holley, Jacqueline Copeland, and Delores Killingsworth-Barber react after the jury's decision.
updated 10/13/2006 5:06:02 PM ET 2006-10-13T21:06:02

A Pennsylvania jury said on Friday that Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, must pay $78.47 million in damages to current and former Pennsylvania employees for forcing them to work “off the clock” or during rest breaks.

On Thursday, a state jury in Philadelphia found in favor of Michelle Braun and Dolores Hummel, formerly employed by Wal- Mart, saying the company violated Pennsylvania labor laws by failing to pay employees for the work.

After deliberating for about two hours, the jury found in Wal-Mart’s favor on the charge it denied workers meal breaks.

It awarded about $2.5 million for off-the-clock working and about $76 million for lost rest breaks between March of 1998 and May of 2006.

The award was another blow to Wal-Mart’s image, which has been tarnished by accusations by labor unions, politicians and others that it pays poverty-level wages and mistreats workers.

Wal-Mart, which has been working aggressively to improve its reputation, has said it is unfairly targeted because it is such a large employer.

Hummel said tearfully that she was very happy with the jury’s award.

“It took a lot of courage for me to go against Wal-Mart,” said Hummel, who worked for the company for 10 years and left in 2002.

Mike Donovan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the jury’s verdict was “a home run.”

“They awarded everything we asked for,” he said.

“The message of today’s verdict to large retailers is that they can’t say one thing to their employees and do another.”

Neal Manne, an attorney for Wal-Mart, said he “obviously disagrees” with the jury’s verdict and its award of damages.

“I’m confident there will be an appeal,” he said, but declined to specify the grounds of any appeal.

Before deliberations began in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, Donovan argued that Wal-Mart employees were forced to work through their breaks because the company wanted to maximize profits.

“Wal-Mart doesn’t understand anything but numbers,” he said. “In order for Wal-Mart to understand this, it needs to see numbers, big numbers.”

At one point, Donovan urged the jury to “send a message to corporate America,” by fully compensating plaintiffs for their lost wages, but he was immediately rebuked by Judge Mark Bernstein who instructed the jury to ignore Donovan’s statement.

Manne, who asked the jury to award $287,000 for off-the- clock working and $6.65 million for missed rest breaks, argued that many employees had in fact taken breaks without swiping their ID cards to indicate they were on a break.

“Lots of people who took rest breaks simply didn’t swipe,” he said.

Manne also urged jurors to consider that some employees may have missed parts of their breaks because they wanted to keep working.

In December, a California jury ruled that Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, should pay $172 million in damages and compensation to about 116,000 current and former employees for denying meal breaks.

Plaintiffs in the 2001 California lawsuit claimed Wal-Mart had failed to pay hourly employees for missed or interrupted meal breaks. Wal-Mart has said it took steps to ensure meal breaks for its employees, including deploying technology to shut down cash registers if cashiers do not respond to alerts for breaks.

Wal-Mart shares closed up 14 cents at $48.46 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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