Wal-Mart Truckers Get an Extra $6M – not $80M

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge Wednesday declined to add $80 million to a $54 million jury award for underpaid truck drivers, finding that Wal-Mart made a good faith effort to follow labor laws.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston did, however, award the truckers an extra $5.8 million in restitution for unpaid layovers, inspections and rest breaks.

A seven-member jury in November found that Wal-Mart intentionally failed to pay hundreds of California drivers for time spent washing and inspecting trucks and for layovers and mandatory rest breaks.

The truckers in December filed a motion seeking an extra $86 million – $25.6 million in penalties, $54.6 million in liquidated damages, and $5.8 million in restitution – on top of the $54 million jury award.

After hearing oral arguments Tuesday, Illston stuck with her tentative ruling and denied the requested $80 million in penalties and liquidated damages, though she granted $5.8 million in restitution.

Holding Wal-Mart liable for liquidated damages would require finding that it acted with “dishonest and wrongful motive,” Illston said in her 18-page ruling.

Illston cited Wal-Mart’s policy of granting discretionary pay to drivers who fell short of daily averages, its quick action to comply with changes to state labor laws in 2015, and testimony that its pay and attrition rates are among the best in the trucking industry as facts supporting a finding of “good faith on Wal-Mart’s part.”

Turning to civil penalties, Illston found that California law does not authorize awarding employees such penalties unless they file a claim under the state’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA).

Illston had dismissed the truckers’ PAGA claims because they failed to show they exhausted administrative remedies before filing suit, as required.

But she found the truckers are entitled to restitution for unpaid rest breaks, inspections and 10-hour layovers from October 2004 to October 2005.

Because the jury unanimously found Wal-Mart liable for not paying truckers for time spent on those activities, Illston said the truckers deserve restitution. She rejected Wal-Mart’s arguments disputing an expert witness’s calculation of the total average amount of unpaid wages during that time period.

Illston awarded the truckers an extra $5.8 million in restitution to be added to the $54 million jury award while denying the other $80 million in requested damages and penalties.

Class attorney Lawrence Artenian of Wagner and Jones in Fresno and Wal-Mart attorney Scott Edelman of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

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