Class Action Against Wal-Mart Goes Forward & Meal Breaks Have Value

Gordon Law Group

Favorable Wal-Mart ruling overturned. Order decertifying the Wal-Mart class action is reversed, and summary judgment on a number of issues is overturned.

In a suit alleging that Wal-Mart “wrongfully withheld compensation for time worked and denied or cut short rest and meal break to which they were entitled,” the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (“SJC”), ruled that the burden the lower court “judge imposed on the plaintiffs would be both onerous and unproductive in light of overwhelming evidence that all of the class members — people who staff the grill counter, receivers, cashiers, and so on — were subject to the identical terms and conditions regarding breaks and off-the- clock work, which (according to company policy) were to be followed stringently.” Thus, ruled the SJC in Salvas v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the trial court should not have decertified the class.

Accordingly, the action against Wal-Mart, alleging that Wal-Mart wrongfully withheld compensation for time worked and denied or cut short rest and meal breaks for its hourly employees, may proceed.

This lower court issued a decertification order based on its finding that the plaintiffs failed to meet the predominance requirement set forth in Rule 23(b). The SJC took this opportunity to clarify the predominance requirement, stating, “At the pretrial class action stage, the plaintiffs must provide information sufficient to enable the motion judge to form a reasonable judgment that the class meets the requirements of Rule 23; they do not bear the burden of producing evidence sufficient to prove that the requirements of Rule 23 have been met.”

The SJC also made an interesting observation on the concept of meal and break periods. The lower court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims for damages arising from missed meal and break periods. The trial court had reasoned that because meal periods are unpaid breaks and because there’s no independent right of action for a missed meal break, therefore a missed period does not result in economic damages. The SJC disagreed. “[M]erely because meal periods are unpaid [break periods under the statute], it does not follow that they have no value… The monetary value of a meal break cannot be held as a matter of law to be zero.”

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