NEWARK, N.J. -- A federal court judge here dismissed racketeering charges against Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., in a case involving undocumented individuals working as janitors at Wal-Mart stores, but said the plaintiffs could amend the request and possibly have the racketeering charges reinstated.
However, Judge Joseph Greenaway said the plaintiffs could proceed to trial on a collective-action claim charging Wal-Mart with failure to pay minimum wages and overtime, and a potential class-action claim charging the company with unlawfully locking the workers in stores overnight. James Linsey, the plaintiffs' attorney, told SN said he doesn't expect a trial to begin until sometime in 2007.
The claims were filed in November 2003 in U.S. District Court here by nine Mexican nationals who were among the illegal immigrants rounded up in a raid a month earlier by federal immigration officials at 61 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states. Wal-Mart agreed earlier this year to pay the government $11 million to settle the claim that it had employed illegal immigrants as janitors.
Commenting on Judge Greenaway's ruling, Linsey said, "This is a true victory for the plaintiffs because the judge forcefully affirmed the right of these immigrants to sue Wal-Mart for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act [on minimum pay and overtime] while rejecting Wal-Mart's claim that outside contractors were responsible, and for allowing them to sue for false imprisonment, which carries punitive damages."
He told SN he intends to amend the racketeering claim over the next 45 days, alleging Wal-Mart and its outside contractors conspired not to pay overtime wages, in violation of the Racketeering-Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
Wal-Mart said the dismissal of the RICO charges represents "a very significant decision that is consistent with Wal-Mart's position from the beginning."