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No Dismissal in Penn. Walmart Labor Suit

(CN) - A federal judge in Pennsylvania refused to dismiss a labor class action against Walmart claiming the retail giant doesn't pay its assistant managers overtime for working over 40 hours per week.

The case involves a pair of putative class actions - now consolidated - in the Western District of Pennsylvania in which the now-former assistant managers are seeking to recover overtime pay under federal and state laws.

Walmart moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to plead that all assistant managers across Pennsylvania work more than 40 hours per week and thus entitled to overtime pay.

But U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak said in a memorandum opinion issued March 31 that "even a cursory examination of the complaint reveals that the plaintiffs more than plead a plausible claim for relief" in their second amended complaint.

"They plead with great detail their personal experiences while working at Walmart, that the work they did was generally representative of the work of assistant managers, that such work was not exempt from the overtime provision of the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act and that other assistant managers across Pennsylvania were in the same sitatuion," Hornak wrote.

The judge rejected Walmart's argument that the plaintiffs can't possibly know the working situations of the more than 1,000 assistant managers in Pennsylvania.

"That is not what the second amended complaint says," Hornak wrote. "The complaint pleads that the plaintiffs attended a number of training and other business meetings of and for Walmart assistant managers (including them), and it appeared plain as day (to them) that there was a highly integrated, systemic approach to store operations as it affected the work of assistant managers such that it was not only plausible but likely that a single system of work assignments to them and their peers was in force."

The plaintiffs also showed that Walmart's "comprehensive system" ensured that assistant managers were scheduled, assigned and paid in the same ways, the judge added - noting that at this stage in the case he has to take the pleadings as true.

"Perhaps, when the issue arrives at the decision point as to whether these cases can proceed to disposition as class or collective actions, or on the merits of the plaintiffs' claims and the defendant's defenses, the defendant will prevail," Hornak wrote. "At this point, however, that is not the question to be addressed. Now, the issue is whether the allegations of the second amended complaint, if true, are enough to get to the next step, and past a motion to dismiss. In the court's estimation, they are."

The judge also extended a no-contact order forbidding lawyers on both sides from talking to current assistant managers, after Walmart's lawyers claimed they viewed them as clients.

"If so, it would appear to the court that this could raise the specter of the disqualification of all counsel for Walmart in this action," Hornak wrote, suggesting that Walmart and its attorneys may eventually find their "prior observations about such matters were a bit extravagant" after some reflection on the prospect of being disqualified.

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