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Wal-Mart Stores Inc., facing more than 70 labor-practice lawsuits, won one case in New York and lost two in other states after judges differed on whether employees could sue as a group over claims of unpaid work. Wal-Mart lost bids to reverse approvals of worker class actions or group suits over pay in Missouri and New Mexico on Tuesday. Employees in the New York case sought to include about 200,000 former and current workers in the suit, claiming store managers made workers skip meals and breaks and falsified timecards.
"The facts and circumstances surrounding the allegedly unpaid work vary substantially from associate to associate," New York Supreme Court Justice Richard M. Platkin wrote in a decision Monday in Albany, N.Y., rejecting a class action.

Since December 2005, juries in Pennsylvania and California have awarded Wal-Mart workers $251 million in pay and damages after deciding the retailer didn't properly compensate them for overtime and breaks. Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. employer with 1.9 million workers, faces more than 70 other U.S. wage-and-hour suits, including class actions.
Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., is "exploring options for appeal," in the New Mexico and Missouri cases, spokesman John Simley said. "These decisions were not on the merits of the case, but only on whether they should proceed as class actions."

"Even more courts across the country have found that cases like these are not suited for class treatment," Simley said. "An example of that came in New York today, where the court found in favor of Wal-Mart on every aspect of class certification analysis."

Individual circumstances are too varied and the group of people too broad to weigh the New York case as a group, Platkin wrote, noting that "not each and every individual who was ever an hourly employee of defendant during the relevant time period worked without pay, nor was every hourly employee deprived of premium pay for overtime hours."
Including a larger group would "result in miniscule individual awards of damages to class members," Platkin wrote.

In Missouri, Wal-Mart lost a bid to reverse class certification of a similar lawsuit when an a state appeals court upheld a lower court decision granting hourly workers in that state the right to sue as a group.

The Missouri decision expanded the lawsuit by changing the case from an opt-in action, which requires workers to ask to join the suit, to an opt-out suit, which makes hourly workers part of the litigation automatically unless they ask to be let out.

The decision means that Wal-Mart will be facing a group suit by more than 200,000 current and former hourly workers in Missouri, rather than a lawsuit by several hundred or several thousand. Typically, a small number of potential plaintiffs would opt into a suit.

"This gives these people their day in court," said attorney Steve Long, who represents the Missouri workers. He said he would be seeking a trial in 2008.
The Court of Appeals of New Mexico on Tuesday upheld a 2005 lower court's decision granting class action status to Wal-Mart hourly workers in that state who claim they worked off the clock without compensation and missed rest breaks. The New Mexico class would include about 40,000 current and former Wal-Mart hourly employees, said attorney Jerry Bader, who represents the workers.

In New York, while the workers could bring individual claims against Wal-Mart, the cost of pursuing these suits would be too high, said Jonathan Selbin, an attorney for the workers there.
"These are not claims these people could realistically bring without a class action," he said. "Obviously we're disappointed. We plan to appeal. We think the judge got it wrong."
The lawsuit claimed that Wal-Mart required its hourly employees to work off the clock and through breaks and would have covered unpaid workers as far back as August 1995, he said.


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