U.S. top court rejects Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo class-action appeals

Walmart judgment concerns treatment of workers
By Lawrence Hurley
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 04/04/2016

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected two corporate challenges in class action cases, refusing to hear bids by Wal-Mart Stores and Wells Fargo & Co to throw out large judgments against them.

Wal-Mart had sought to get rid of a US$187-million class action judgment over the retailer's treatment of workers in Pennsylvania. Wells Fargo & Co wanted the justices to toss a US$203-million judgment over allegations the bank had imposed excessive overdraft fees.

The court's decisions on whether to hear the cases had been on hold pending its action in a separate class action case involving Tyson Foods Inc.

On March 22, the court in that case backed workers at a pork facility in Iowa who said they were entitled to overtime pay and damages because they were not paid for the time spent putting on and taking off protective equipment and walking to work stations.

Entering the court's current term, which began in October, the justices had issued a series of rulings in recent years clamping down on class action litigation, a goal of big business.

But that trend has not continued. The court has heard three important class action cases this term. In January, it ruled against advertising firm Campbell-Ewald and in March ruled against Tyson Foods.

The justices have yet to issue a ruling in a case argued in November in which online people-search service Spokeo Inc sought to avoid a class action lawsuit for including incorrect information in its database.

In declining to hear Wal-Mart's appeal, the court left intact a 2014 ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that largely upheld a lower court judgment awarding the $187 million to the plaintiffs.

The case affects about 187,000 Wal-Mart employees who worked in Pennsylvania between 1998 and 2006.

"We are disappointed the Supreme Court decided not to review our case. While we continue to believe these claims should not be bundled together in a class action lawsuit, we respect the court's decision," a Wal-Mart spokesman said.

The Pennsylvania court mostly upheld a 2007 lower court ruling in favor of the employees, who said the company failed to pay them for all hours worked and prevented them from taking full meal and rest breaks. The appeals court threw out a US$37 million attorneys' fee award and ordered the trial court to recalculate that portion of the judgment.

In the Wells Fargo case, the justices left in place a 2014 ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the class action judgment against the bank.

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