Wal-Mart workers were forced to stay late without being paid overtime, sometimes locked inside stores until other workers completed their jobs and then told to pitch in off the clock, an attorney for 134 former employees told a jury considering how much the retail giant should pay in damages.
Overtime violations were systematic and routine at the 18 Oregon stores where complaints were filed, plaintiff's attorney Becky Roe told jurors in her opening statement Tuesday.
A previous federal jury ruled unanimously in December 2002 that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. violated federal and state law labor laws by forcing employees at the stores to work unpaid overtime from 1994 to 1999.
The second panel, made up of different jurors, was seated only to determine damages.
"I think you'll hear from the evidence that their jobs simply could not be accomplished within a 40-hour week," Roe said Tuesday.
From 1994 to 1997, electronic time sheets could be altered without any record of the changes, Roe said. As a result, "overtime simply got edited out," she said.
But a lawyer for Wal-Mart questioned the credibility of the former employees and whether they exaggerated the number of hours they worked. Attorney Rudy Englund told the jurors they must focus on the individual behavior of each of the 134 former employees to determine damages.
"Evidence in the first trial focused quite heavily on the behavior and actions of Wal-Mart," Englund said. "Despite the first trial, there is still a significant amount of evidence to be presented."
Roe said that, among other violations, Wal-Mart asked employees to help with tidying departments after closing; workers were asked to help make sure product labels were lined up properly; and employees had to spend unpaid time working on shelves frequently changed for new products or displays.
Roe said many employees who had finished their work days were routinely locked inside stores until other workers had completed their jobs, allowing managers to encourage the waiting employees to pitch in "off the clock" so that everybody could leave.
Englund said managers were simply trying to encourage teamwork. "Off the clock is not necessarily evil," Englund said.
Meanwhile, an internal audit of about 25,000 Wal-Mart employees uncovered thousands of labor violations, including minors working during school hours and workers not taking breaks or lunches.
The company's July 2000 audit detailed 1,371 violations of child-labor laws.
In a statement Tuesday, Wal-Mart said the audit was not a valid study and should not be taken at face value. The audit, obtained by The New York Times, covered employee records at 128 Wal-Mart stores nationwide.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based company has 1.2 million domestic employees.