By Jane M. Von Bergen
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
A Philadelphia judge ruled that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. must pay $49.2 million in attorneys fees and expenses bringing the total to $187.6 million owed to Pennsylvania employees who were not paid during rest breaks.
The total – $187,648,589.11 – awarded by Common Pleas Court Judge Mark I. Bernstein, represents the entire tally in the class action case that went on trial a year ago in Philadelphia and resulted in a $78.8 million jury verdict against the Arkansas discounter.
Last month, the judge awarded an additional $62.3 million in damages, for a total of $141.1 million.
The case involved 187,000 former and current Wal-Mart employees in Pennsylvania.
Today’s ruling gives the workers an additional $10.2 million in interest and sets attorneys fees and expenses in the case.
In total, the lawyers will earn $49.2 million in fees and expenses with Wal-Mart having to pay $36.5 million of those fees on top of the $151.3 million in damages and interest. The balance, or $12.7 million, will be split among the plaintiffs.
“Obviously we will appeal the case,” Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley said. “It was a flawed decision. We respect the court and the jury, but we strongly disagree with the decision.”
Simley said it is Wal-Mart’s policy to pay workers for every hour they work.
The jury agreed with plaintiffs who complained that they were forced to skip rest breaks and also had to work some time off the clock. However, the jury found in Wal-Mart’s favor on the issue of lunch breaks.
Michael Donovan of Donovan Searles L.L.C., of Philadelphia was the lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the case.
Donovan’s firm will not get the entire $49.2 million. He and his firm were assisted by other attorneys across the nation who share discovery strategies and expertise in these large and data-intensive cases.
A class-action case on similar issues is now being heard by a judge in Minnesota.
Initially, there were two Philadelphia cases – one filed in March 2002 and the other filed in August 2004. In December 2005, Bernstein granted class-action status, combining the cases.