Jury Awards California Truckers $55 Million in Wal-Mart Wage Suit

Shelby Krzastek

On November 23, 2016, a jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs in Ridgeway v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., finding that the retail giant Wal-Mart owed approximately 850 former Wal-Mart truck drivers back pay for hours worked for which they had not been compensated. These hours included time spent on pre- and post-trip inspections, 10-minute rest breaks, and mandatory 10-hour layovers. The jury awarded the drivers $55 million, with the bulk of the award earmarked for Wal-Mart’s failure to pay drivers the minimum wage for the aforementioned mandatory layovers.

The Ridgeway decision came out of the Northern District of California, where the case was approved for class certification and ultimately tried. Plaintiffs claimed that Wal-Mart failed to pay its truck drivers the minimum wage and failed to pay them for all work done. The drivers alleged that Wal-Mart’s compensation scheme, which paid drivers based on activities performed rather than hours worked, meant that drivers were not paid the minimum wage for all hours worked. The payment structure calculated wages for drivers based on mileage, activity pay, and non-activity pay; “activity pay” refers to pay for regular compensable job duties, and “non-activity pay” to pay for events at Wal-Mart dispatch and home offices, as well as unplanned events.

The drivers contended that, under California law, employees must be paid at least the minimum wage for all time that they are controlled by their employer, and that Wal-Mart’s compensation scheme meant that they were not compensated for all periods during which they were subject to Wal-Mart’s control. Wal-Mart argued that pre- and post-trip activities, like rest breaks, inspections, fueling, washing, weighing, and paperwork, were included within other provisions of Wal-Mart’s piece-rate compensation structure for its truck drivers. It also argued that drivers are not subject to Wal-Mart’s control during the Department of Transportation–mandated layover periods, for which Wal-Mart paid drivers a flat rate of $42.00, because drivers are free to do non–job-related activities during those layovers. Therefore, Wal-Mart contended, it was not obligated to pay drivers the minimum wage for time spent on layovers.

The Ridgeway jury found that activities that are not separately compensated may not properly be built in or subsumed into the activity pay component of Wal-Mart’s pay policies under California law. As such, the plaintiffs were owed back pay for time spent on pre- and post-trip inspections, rest breaks, and layovers. The jury found the same minimum wage violations as to nine class representatives and made additional awards to those individuals. The jury also determined that Wal-Mart intentionally failed to comply with state minimum wage requirements, so the court will determine the amount Wal-Mart will be required to pay in civil penalties.

If your employer has failed to pay you the minimum wage, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.