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Wal-Mart loses suit over rest breaks

PHILADELPHIA -- Wal-Mart broke Pennsylvania labor laws by forcing employees to work through rest breaks and off the clock, a jury decided yesterday in a decision plaintiffs' lawyers said would result in at least $62 million in damages.

Jurors determine damages today in the class-action lawsuit, which covers up to 187,000 hourly current and former workers.

``I think it reinforces that this company's sweatshop mindset is a serious problem, both legally and morally," said Chris Kofinis, a spokesman for WakeUpWalMart.com, a union-funded effort to improve working conditions.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant is facing a slew of similar suits around the country. Wal-Mart settled a Colorado case for $50 million and is appealing a $172 million award in California.

The company declined to comment yesterday because of the pending deliberations over damages.

The Pennsylvania jury deliberated for several hours after a five-week trial. Jurors found that Wal-Mart acted in bad faith but rejected claims the company denied workers meal breaks.

Wal-Mart, the nation's largest employer, earned about $10 billion in 2004.

The Pennsylvania case involves labor practices at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores between March 1998 and May 1, 2006.

Lead plaintiff Dolores Hummel claimed that she had to work through breaks and after quitting time to meet work demands in the bakery. She said she worked eight to 12 unpaid hours a month .

``One of Wal-Mart's undisclosed secrets for its profitability is its creation and implementation of a system that encourages off-the-clock work for its hourly employees," Hummel said in her lawsuit, which was filed in 2002.

The plaintiffs used electronic evidence, such as systems that show when employees are signed on to cash registers and other machines, to help win class certification during several days of hearings last year.

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