Foreigners Missed the Boat to Sue Wal-Mart

     (CN) – Undocumented workers waited too long to accuse Wal-Mart of forcibly locking them in stores at night and failing to pay them minimum wage and overtime, a federal judge ruled.
     Victor Manuel Zavala and eight other undocumented immigrants who worked for independent contractors that cleaned Wal-Mart stores filed a federal class action in November 2003. Although more than 100 individuals opted in between 2004 and 2005, a federal judge in New Jersey held that the plaintiffs were not similarly situated enough to qualify for class certification.
     Roughly half of the opt-in plaintiffs filed a nearly identical lawsuit in October 2010, claiming Wal-Mart hired them knowing they were undocumented, and paid them in cash or by personal checks from labor contractors. The retail giant also put them to forced labor through coercion, and “violated immigration, money laundering and protective wage and hour laws,” according to the complaint.
     Most of the 42 plaintiffs’ names indicate Eastern European descent, particularly Polish and Czech. Many say they worked more than 40 hours a week, seven days a week.
     Wal-Mart has hired immigrants through outside contractors to clean its thousands of stores since March 1997 in order to boost profits and reduce costs, including Social Security taxes and health benefits, according to the complaint.
     The class claimed Wal-Mart “sheltered” them “by arranging or providing lodging for them and routinely transporting them across the United States to work at different Wal-Mart locations.”
     The company allegedly structures its business operations “in multiple shell corporations so as to shield the continued employment of the migrants from detection” – a scheme which senior executives “permitted … to flourish.”
     Class members who complained about the treatment were “threatened with deportation or other adverse legal action,” according to the lawsuit.
     The plaintiffs alleged RICO violations, conspiracy, violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and false imprisonment.
     After the district court dismissed all but the individual FLSA claims in January 2012, many plaintiffs settled with Wal-Mart.
     Wal-Mart later moved for summary judgment, arguing that the 11 remaining plaintiffs stopped working for the store between February 2000 and August 2002, so their claims are time-barred.
     U.S. District Judge William Martini granted the motion.
     He said nine of the remaining plaintiffs opted in to the first lawsuit “at least three years and six months after they stopped working at Wal-Mart.”
     “There is no suggestion that anyone’s pay day was scheduled six months after their last day of work,” Martini wrote. “Accordingly, when these nine remaining plaintiffs filed written consents in [the 2003 lawsuit], their FLSA claims were already time-barred under the three-year statute of limitations. And when these nine remaining plaintiffs filed the instant suit on Oct. 14, 2010, their FLSA claims were still time-barred.”
     The two other remaining plaintiffs’ claims are also untimely, Martini concluded.

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