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Wal-Mart to pay $78.5m in suit

Retailer could face more penalties in Pa. labor law case

PHILADELPHIA -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's biggest retailer, must pay at least $78.5 million for violating Pennsylvania labor laws by forcing employees to work through rest breaks and off the clock, a jury found yesterday.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Michael Donovan will also seek another $62 million in damages because the jury found that Wal-Mart acted in bad faith. Common Pleas Judge Mark Bernstein is expected to rule on that issue in the next few weeks.

The jury awarded the exact amount the plaintiffs sought, rejecting Wal-Mart's claim that some employees chose to work through breaks and that the loss of a few minutes' pay here or there was insignificant.

``It should send a message to corporate America that you can't say one thing and do another . . . and that you should put people ahead of profits," Donovan said.

Plaintiffs are expected to receive between $50 and a few thousand dollars, depending on how long they worked for the company, Donovan said. Wal-Mart must pay the plaintiffs' legal fees on top of the award.

Donovan argued that Wal-Mart's pay practices gave the company a competitive advantage. Wal-Mart is the nation's largest retailer, earning $11.2 billion in profits on $312.4 billion in sales in the last fiscal year.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based company is facing similar suits around the country. Wal-Mart is appealing a $172 million verdict in a California case and settled a Colorado suit for $50 million.

The Pennsylvania class-action suit involves 187,000 current and former employees who worked at Wal-Mart and Sam's Clubs from March 1998 through May of this year.

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