BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores faces a lawsuit in New York state that accuses the company of unfair labor practices.
Filed in a New York state court in Manhattan, the suit charges the retailer with forcing hourly employees to work off the clock and denying them adequate rest breaks, among other practices.
The lawsuit, filed by Maria Gamble, a former employee at the store in Centereach, N.Y., is seeking class-action status on behalf of 20,000 current and past hourly employees of 83 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in New York. The suit is seeking back pay and unspecified damages.
In other legal action, Wal-Mart earlier this month responded to a lawsuit filed last June in San Francisco by six women who are seeking class-action status for charges that the retailer systematically discriminates against females in hiring and promotion practices. Although Wal-Mart has "emphatically denied" any wrongdoing, the firm said provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act require that, because the plaintiffs are from different states, their charges need to be filed in the federal district in which the company is based, in this case the western district of Arkansas. Wal-Mart argued that the suit therefore should either be dismissed or transferred to judges in Fayetteville or Fort Smith, Ark.
In court papers from the hourly employees' suit, Gamble claimed that she and other coworkers were routinely forced to stay at work, restocking merchandise and counting cash, after the Long Island store she worked in had closed for the night. She also alleged that workers were forced to attend meetings and training sessions for which they were not compensated.
The New York and sex discrimination suits are but the latest in a growing file of legal headaches for the company. Earlier this month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit in federal court in Kansas City, Mo., alleging a Missouri Wal-Mart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to hire a wheelchair-bound job applicant.
In July, Wal-Mart was forced to pay $2 million in damages to an employee who claimed he was harassed and fired from his position as a cashier after a manager learned the worker was undergoing a sex-change operation.
A spokesman for Wal-Mart declined to comment about the hourly workers' suit specifically, but noted: "We have a very strict and frequently articulated policy about off-the-clock work. It is part of the signage in our stores, our training and the subject of articles in company magazines. We have a strong emphasis on the policy with our supervisors, and any supervisor who looks the other way is subject to dismissal."
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has eliminated at least one of its legal challenges. Last week, the company said it had resolved a complaint filed by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
The department had filed the complaint after several of Wal-Mart's competitors argued that the company had sold some items below cost in 1998 and 1999, allegedly violating Wisconsin's Unfair Sales Act.
Wal-Mart said it believes the act says retail firms may price items below cost for a variety of reasons, as long as there is no anticompetitive intent or effect.
Dave Jackson, Wal-Mart senior vice president and manager of the division that includes Wisconsin, said, "At all times, our pricing was fair, but aggressively pro-consumer. We believe in everyday low prices and fair competition."
Jackson said Wal-Mart has taken steps to improve its recordkeeping and has agreed to a penalty if it is found in the future to have violated the act. The company also said it would make a $15,000 contribution to a consumer education program for Wisconsin high school students.