Wal-Mart lawsuit exposes widespread worker abuse


After months of being denied breaks, Debbie Simonson had had enough. She quit her job at the Brooklyn Park Wal-Mart store because “I was tired of all the stress . . . of being told I couldn’t go to the bathroom.” Even though she didn’t get to take the breaks, Wal-Mart never paid her for the time she worked, she said.

Then, on one of her last days of work, Simonson forgot to punch the time clock at the end of her shift. So a supervisor marked the log for 6:59 a.m. – one minute after she started. Instead of getting paid for eight hours of work, she was paid for one minute.

Simonson and 56,000 other current and former Wal-Mart employees hope to get the money they are owed – and a measure of justice – through a class action lawsuit that began Tuesday in Dakota County District Court. The case involves workers employed at 46 Wal-Mart and 13 Sam Club’s stores across Minnesota from September 1998 to January 2004.

Attorneys for the workers say the case will have implications for Wal-Mart employees across the country.

Mountains of evidence

By agreement of both parties, the case is being heard without a jury by District Judge Robert King, Jr. Boxes of evidence – everything from payroll records, tax records, and company reports to memos and e-mails – line the courtroom walls. The case has taken more than six years to prepare and involved examining data from some 9 million shifts, said William Sieben, lead attorney for the workers.

The research uncovered more than 14.6 million violations of both Minnesota law and company policy, amounting to more than $27 million, the attorneys said.

“While these employees are working as hard as they can, below the poverty line, Wal-Mart is breaking the law . . .” attorney Justin Perl of Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand said in opening statements.

The suit alleges:

• Wal-Mart failed to pay workers when they missed all or part of their 15-minute rest breaks.
• Wal-Mart failed to pay workers when they missed all or part of their half-hour lunch breaks.
• Wal-Mart routinely required employees to work “off the clock” for no pay before and after shifts.
• Wal-Mart managers falsified time sheets to show that breaks were taken.
• Wal-Mart managers regularly engaged in the “one-minute punch” practice, depriving workers of pay for entire shifts.

Pressure to cut costs

These practices were widespread because store managers were under constant pressure to cut labor costs, attorneys said. They cited internal company memos in which managers were chastised if they sought overtime pay for employees or did not meet company directives to lower payroll costs every year.

“The message is delivered,” Perl said. “It starts at the top: ‘Take a blowtorch to payroll.'”

When workers complained, they “got in trouble or were threatened,” he said.

Simonson, a single mother with two children, earned $7.25 an hour at the Brooklyn Park store. When asked how many breaks she was denied over her year of employment, she responded, “Too many to count.”

Cashiers were only allowed to use the bathroom during their rest break, she said. After being forced work for four hours without a break, her chronic bladder condition – which had required surgery – worsened, she said.

Her attempts to raise the problem with managers fell on deaf ears, she testified.

Burying the evidence

Not just store managers failed to act, Perl said. During his opening statement, he showed two videos of top company officials talking to shareholders and managers about wage and hour violations.

“We know we do some things we probably shouldn’t do . . .” a human resources vice president can be heard saying on one of the tapes.

When an internal company audit revealed tens of thousands of violations occurring at Wal-Mart stores around the country in just one week, “they buried the audit,” Perl said.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest employer, keeps voluminous records on all its stores on a computer larger than the one in the Pentagon. Attorneys hope to use the company’s own records against it.

Last year in Philadelphia, workers won $78 million in a lawsuit against Wal-Mart over identical violations. Workers in at least 10 other states are awaiting the outcome of the Minnesota case, which will probably be in court until the end of October, Sieben said.

Attorneys for Wal-Mart did not make opening statements Tuesday, but said they would wait until after the plaintiffs have presented their case.

In addition to seeking financial relief for the employees, the attorneys are asking the judge to issue an injunction barring the company from using the “one-minute punch” to falsify employee work records.

Despite publicity about the practice, “we think it’s still going on,” Sieben said.

44 thoughts on “Wal-Mart lawsuit exposes widespread worker abuse

  1. I work at the Walmart in Skowhegan,Maine Store # 2143. Two
    managers were fired last month for shaving time on time cards and
    many other illegal actions.

  2. This is really sickening. After learning what I have learned in the previous weeks, I have tried to spend the least amount of time at Wal-Mart. This explains why a lot of times the workers have such an attitude towards the customers in my local Wal-Mart. They just built a new Super store in my area. I’ve only been in there about three times and each time I’m there, there’s never enough cashiers. The lines are incredibly long while empty check out stands aren’t being used. Now they have to deal with groceries. Wal-Mart may very well self destruct.

  3. I was previously employed by the new superstore #3760. An ABUSIVE and MISLEADING company in my eyes. There is not much for employment in my area so people are basically “stuck” there. I feel awful knowing that my friends are still there working extremely hard. Wal-mart keeps passifying everyone with telling employees that they are doing interviews and hiring…NOT!!! It is only going to get worse with the Holiday season coming.
    Wal-mart is not making the money they thought they would. Absolutely no overtime…and you better be doing the work of 2 or 3 people to get everything done OR you have the lovely “coaching”. BUT don’t worry…they will not fire you…because they like the “power” of making you feel “little”.
    MISLEADING…Wal-mart bragged about the stakeholders checks that they pay quarterly…lol…#3760 will not see that. This store isn’t even close to paying out one dime to them…their expectations of sales is not possible for this area!!!
    “Puppets” is the word I use. The Assistant managers have a power struggle going on between themselves and the employee is ABUSED by it. They, (managers) can get you, (employees) to set-up and take down the same display 3x in a 24 hour period…and find it funny.
    I was fortunate to find a very understanding company to hire me. I am totally “blown away” by how Wal-mart operates.
    I am really surprised that a Union has not been formed. I feel a Union would be able to protect these people and set standards of the # of employees you need to have hired on each shift in order to even have your doors open for business!!!

  4. Is this really true? I find it hard to believe… Wall Mart is a big company, such bad examples are unacceptable. You have to give respect to get respect and a good public image. After all human capital is one of the most important resource for any company.
    Arizona Payroll Services

  5. I can only speak for the store I work for, 1562 in Coon Rapids, MN.

    Our store has always been very big on breaks. For a 4 hour shift we get a 15 min break and 2 15min breaks and 1 hr lunch for 8 hrs.
    We are not allowed to officially begin our break until we get all the way back to the break room or in my case all the way out to my car for a smoke. We take the full 15 min then walk all the way back to our department. Trust me, my managers do notice if you come back early.

    One of my first days I had 1 cig and came back within 10 min. My manager told me I couldn’t come back yet and I ended up spending the last 5 min sitting in McDonald’s watching customers come and go.

    Very few people make $7.25/hr except the new hires who have no previous retail experience. So I am guessing this is a younger gal who wants everyone to feel sorry for her because she is a single mom. I could be wrong but I do know the management there stinks. The few times I have been there, there is only 2 or 3 cashiers and huge lines.

    But either way this does not mean that because of this 1 incident that every Wal~Mart treats their employees this way.

  6. I currently work at the West St.Paul Wal-Mart ever sence i was hired as a part time employee thay have made me work a fulltime work week. When I had asked Mgmt. what was going on with the hours at hand and if i was going to be offered bennifits for me and my family thay chuckeled and said thay were thinking about making me fulltime. meanwhile 6months later still no benifits, as far as breaks go some times you dont get any

  7. I just saw a documentary on all the negetive things that wal-mart corp is doing to its workers. As for me the volume of complaints from employees are enough to make me not buy anymore at Wal-Mart. It seems that they employ sweat shop tactics and are racking in the billions. I for one will back the workers and not patronize the store any more. I will forward this to all the people that I kown starting with my family.

  8. I have a question, I know a person that works at wal-mart. He is an unloader ( he takes the merchandise out from the wagon) and he says that an overnight assistant manager video tapes after they leave and says that they don’t do nothing at work. Are assistant managers allowed to that? Are they even allowed to video tape?

    If you know please send me an e-mail at: gustavomania@hotmail.com

  9. i work for walmart at this time. i work in the pharmacy dept. the boss i have screams at me and tells me to shut up be quiet and he orders me around like a dog. he did that today and i didn’t even do anything . no matter what i do and i work my but off to please this guy and it doesn’t do any good….i get no breaks except for lunch…i have even got a bladder infection since i have been working there…and as far as the open door policy well they can just shove it because i did that and it backfired i didnt even get from the back of the store to the front and he made me go to the bathroom and he yelled at me .i don’t know what to do about the abuse that i get and i am not the only one but it affects my health and there isn’t allot of jobs that i can do and the stress that he puts me under is going to cause me to have another heart attack,,,,and he is also breaking the law…he does it all the time …but i don’t know if i can get him on that or not
    any advice please let me know

  10. That’s deplorable, how can any human work is such conditions, with so much stress and with no good payment. Thanks for sharing this information guys, its really slavery!!

  11. I am suprised to hear that because there is so much hype about walmart being a great company to work for. I think it comes down to management, maybe corporate should look at their managers job performance.

  12. Quite an intresting blog.Its very informative.I am suprised to hear that because there is so much hype about walmart being a great company to work for. I think it comes down to management, maybe corporate should look at their managers job performance.
    Keepup the great job.

  13. I worked for Walmart for approximately six months and I could not beleive how they mistreat their employees with no breaks, no lunches and even lockign people in the stores until management decides to let them go – doors are locked and no one gets out to the head person decides you can leave. Hurry up and clock otu so you can work another thirty minutes off the clock – sweep floors, empty trash that is what was expecetd of a cashier.

    My husband had been very sick and that is the reason that I went back to work after retirement – he passed away while I was working and the management refused or forgot as they told me to let me have a call from the hospital where my husband was at – Walmart is heartless – absolutely heartless when it comes to their employees

    Somehow one of the cashier money bags got misplaced by a CSM (back playing with her boyfirend in the Sportign Goods Dept) and each and every cahier was called into an office and accused of stealing money – mix up of bags – I asked to see the tape that they said they had and demanded that they call the police immediately – they couldn’t produce the tape and didn’t call teh police. I walked out NEVER to walk back into any Walmart again – they sasy they fired me for NC(No call in) NS (No show) – you better beleive I am never callign and never showing up again! I don’t shop Walmart or Sam’s

  14. I have worked at walmart over 3 years and have found positive and negative points in working there just like anywhere else. As for the super walmart here in Bemidji #3233 I think they give breaks and lunches very well if we get caught not taking our breaks or short lunches we get talked to about it. They have helped me when I got sick and was out on medical leave they helped me with my bills. Some managers needed some work on being more positive with the employees and after our grassroots survey to see how we felt about their performances that changed. The only thing that I think is negative is they do not hire enough people. I think it has to do with the drug testing even though I know why they do it, I dont think that when an employee that has passed the hire drug test and gets a random test and fails but their performance is great I dont think that it should affect their job at all but that is for all employers not just walmart.

  15. The article has a great insight. I greatly enjoyed looking through the topic and found it very informative one for people like me.

    I Would like to know more on these topics.

    It is a terrific eye-opener.

  16. You also don’t need any college education to get a position as a manager. You just have to move up the ranks. One of our managers started off as a cart guy, and his lack of inteligence and education really shows. They have an open door policy were you can challenge a manager’s decission, or if they punish you for something and you don’t agree with their punishment you can use the open door policy, but it is really just a way to make the associate feel like he/she has options, but they don’t actually listen to your side. It’s a twisted company, and as long as you show up, do your job and don’t rock any boats, you should do fine…unless they steal your paycheck I guess.

  17. wall mart is a big company and news like this cannot be expected from such a reputated company. Its a shock for me and would look out in future for such kind of situations.

  18. I refuse to shop at Walmart because of how they treat their employees. I know first hand that the Wal Mart in El Paso discriminates and abuses employees. My son and daughter both got the same job there at the same time. They are one year apart in age and have the same background. My son got hired at a hirer wage than my daughter on the same shift. Of course, my daughter said forget it and gave her two week notice so that she would not ruin her chances elsewhere. My son has been hurt at work, comes home with scrapes and back issues and is constantly berated publicly at work. I told him to give his two week notice. He is too young to get permanently damaged. There is a reason that Walmart is one of the only companies not so badly affected by this economic crisis. It is because they work their employees like slave labor and do not take care of them. They know people need jobs and they know that as soon as someone walks out that door, someone else will walk in the door. Many people that I know complain. I now tell them to do something about it. Don’t shop there, don’t consume their products and tell your friends and families to stop.

  19. This would deteriorate Wal-mart’s goodwill. Something that would be least expected from the known best. Totally unprofessional. Wake up, you’re a world famous chain.

  20. I concurrence with some points here. i day-dream on this is some in reading..but, ey i liked the despatch Thanks since the post.

  21. My wife worked for Sams for almost 5 years. She had to go out on emergency foot surgery. Her maneger wrote her up and gave her a d-day after she told them she had to have foot surgery. My wife had to have 7 screws put in her foot and was out 7 weeks. Well when she came back they fired her withen 13 days. She was a team lead and they just used her and when she was damage they fired her. These stores need to be boy cotted till the treat there employees better. The only one’s that get treated good are the store butt kissers. This store was caught with people working with out food handler permits by the health department and they did nothing because Sams has them in there pocket. This shows if you are a big and greedy company you can do what ever you they feel nessary to the employee with out any punishment. I refuse to shop there any more Walmart has lost $6,000.00 in perscription cost from me alone a month. We shop at Win-co now.

  22. we are slaves at wal-mart i make 7.90 an hour as an unloader and everything else the managers want us to do i do EVERYTHING in the store. Im a very hard worker and im not one to complain because i need this job but i wish everything was better and i got respect…

  23. I had been working at a walmart for six months. During trainning I set my keys down behind the cash register. I was helping a customer. Apparently i was to have more discreation handling the keys. However, I was in trainning and I feel that’s why they have trainning. Instead of givng me a second chance they moved me to shipping boxes in the back also known as the 4 to one crew. I had no problems, and I unloaded the trailer just as fast as any one else. However, one day michael said “you are not focusing enough” I replied “I ship boxes…what’s there to focus on?” speechless she switch subjects.threating to fire me she and her friend moved me to stockman position where I was pulling carts. I had gotten an evaluation “exceeds expectations” however about one month later. I had talked to a front end csm. She tried to have a sexual relationship. I denied her, and I continued working. ever since then it has been a firery attitude over her. Then one day she decided that she didn’t want to allow me to have a break. i had to wait tell after the states/federal law which states i have to take my break within two hours. she then took a list of really small things to michael. Michael already not liking me looked at them. Then into the office I went. first shannon said “you should say may i take a break VS I am going on my break” I repied “I have to take my break shannon…its the law. Then the conversation swithced to “well i have a whole list of stuff here” the next thing on her list was texting. I had text on my shift one time, and I was talked about it. Then I never did it agin since. She acted as if I had done it a million times. Then she witched to “you should inform me when you turn in cans” I said “I informed lori the second csm” Then she switched subjects to “why did you wait around the time clock for one minute?” I replied “I am waiting for the people who were ahead of me” she kept arguing and arguing with me about it. finnaly frustrated I said “you know your not allowing me to go my breaks could result in a lawsuit. Infact i am putting my 30 day notice in. then on the 30 day notice i put “I am leaving because of discrimination, and the fact that the store managers aren’t allowing me to take my breaks on time and sometimes not at all. then michael stood up and starting yelling at me telling me to get out of the store. I asked “can I have a copy of that?” She refused to give me a copy of my 30 day notice as well. finally I clocked out michael following me the whole time yelling. 20120 pine brook blv bend oregon 97701 that was the store I worked at. I am Mark Naysnerski. Thank god I am finnaly over with that hell. They under staff people as well, and expect everything to get done. I lived out of fear of getting fired for six months. I even stoped renting, and I learned how to live homeless. I lived like an animal out of fear. I pray that someday justice happens. 20120 pine brook blvd bend oregon

  24. I just wanted to tell you I read what you wrote and agree with you. My oldest daughter, youngest daughter, my husband and I all work for Wal Mart. Our Wal mart treats us so bad. They make us work after our shift ends and we can’t leave until they say so, but then you have to take the over time off by taking a longer lunch. They will not let you leave early to take the time off either. I thought this was against the labor laws and am trying to find out. They treat you like dogs and work you so hard. They can’t keep help and then wonder why. The managers yell at you in front of others and don’t think anything of it. When they tell everyone to pull stuff out to the floor they get mad at you when you don’t do it, but some people never do help. We have to work so we stay to put up with all the crap they put us through. I always thought Wal Mart would be a great place to work. Some people can cuss out the management and nothing happens to them. Our store just went through remodeling and they called in someone to work overtime knowing he was drunk. He came to work drunk, and they never said anything. Someone saw him asleep in the bathroom but nothing happened. Other people have come to work drunk too and they say and do nothing.

  25. I do not, have not, will not work for Walmart.  I am however not naieve enough to doubt that employees are abused. 

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