Wal-Mart said on Tuesday that it would pay at least $352 million, and possibly far more, to settle lawsuits across the country claiming that it forced employees to work off the clock. Several lawyers described it as the largest settlement ever for lawsuits over wage violations.
After years of being embarrassed by lawsuits over its wage practices, the company agreed to settle 63 cases pending in federal and state courts in 42 states.
The workers and their lawyers will receive at least $352 million, and the payments could reach $640 million, depending on how many claims affected workers submit.
The newly settled cases involved hundreds of thousands of current and former hourly employees. It is unclear how much the average employee will receive, but the sum could be several hundred dollars.
Several lawyers said that Wal-Mart had reached the settlement to help end an embarrassing chapter as its chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., turns his position over to Michael T. Duke in February.
The dozens of wage-and-hour suits against Wal-Mart accused the company and its managers of various illegal tactics. Those included forcing employees to work unpaid off the clock, erasing hours from time cards and preventing workers from taking lunch and other breaks that were promised by the company or guaranteed by state laws.
I was not aware that Wal-Mart was so generous to their employees otherwise that they felt justified in scraping an hour or so of pay a day away from them.
UPDATE: Hmmm...is Wal-Mart settling in an effort to deprive pro-union forces of ammunition in the coming Obama administration?