New Jersey janitors lose civil appeal against Wal-Mart

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 27 views 

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. won a legal appeal Aug. 9 brought by a crew of New Jersey store janitors seeking compensation for unpaid overtime and civil damages from false imprisonment claims dating back to 2003.

“We are pleased the court of appeals affirmed dismal of all the claims which date back nearly eight years. Wal-Mart works to comply with all laws and expects our service providers to do the same,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove.

On Thursday, a three-judge appellate team in the U.S. 3rd Circuit affirmed four lower court rulings, once again siding with Wal-Mart on grounds the plaintiffs had not sufficiently plead their case.

The workers – illegal immigrants who took jobs with contractors that Wal-Mart hired to clean its stores at low prices – alleged three serious charges against the retail giant.

First, the plaintiffs said Wal-Mart had hiring and firing authority over them and closely directed their actions. This meant that Wal-Mart was their employer under the Federal Labor Standards Act and had underpaid them. They asked for class action status as well.

The 49-page opinion written by Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith noted the proposed class of plaintiffs should not be certified, citing that the plaintiffs were employed by 70 different contracting firms across 33 states. The contract workers not only did cleaning for Wal-Mart but also took contract jobs for numerous other businesses including Marriott, according to the court record.

The opinion noted that Wal-Mart has already resolved the individual wage claims of named plaintiffs through a series of settlements and an offer of judgment as far back as 2005.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. agreed to pay $11 million to settle federal allegations it used illegal immigrants to clean its stores in March 2005 in connection with this case. Many of the janitors – from Mexico, Russia, Mongolia, Poland and a host of other nations – worked seven days or nights a week without overtime pay or injury compensation, according to court records.

Secondly, plaintiffs charged Wal-Mart took part in a racketeering enterprise to predicate acts of transporting and harboring illegal immigrants in addition to encouraging illegal immigration. In so doing, they claimed conspiracy to commit money laundering and involuntary servitude. The record indicated recruiting ads in foreign publications seeking workers to clean U.S. stores.

But Brooks also noted plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient evidence to support allegations of conspiracy to commit to aforementioned crimes.

Thirdly, the cleaning crews said Wal-Mart‘s practice of locking them in some stores at night and on weekends – constituted false imprisonment.

Wal-Mart admitted in its defense some stores were locked during cleaning hours, but said store management was onsite with keys and there were also unobstructed emergency exits available, which was enough to convince Brooks to dismiss this claim as well.