The first major meal period trial in California got underway yesterday in Alameda County Superior Court. The plaintiffs gave their opening statements in Savaglio v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., a case involving about 116,000 former and current Wal-Mart Stores Inc. workers. The jury was told that Wal-Mart systematically and illegally denied workers lunch breaks. Savaglio was previously known as one of the more widely reported trial decisions characterizing meal break pay as a wage, rather than a penalty.
"Wal-Mart tried to make its profits and excuse its violations on the backs of the working poor," plaintiff's attorney Furth told the jury. "I will prove the reason they did this was for the God Almighty dollar," Furth added in his opening statement. Wal-Mart deferred its opening statement until after the plaintiffs' case is concluded.
Under California law, employees who work more than five hours must be given a 30-minute, unpaid lunch break. If the employee does not get the break, and does not voluntarily and without coercion or intimidation, waive the break, the employer is required to pay the employee an additional hour of pay. Breaks cannot be waived for shifts in excess of six hours.
The Wal-Mart lawsuit affects former and current employees in California from 2001 to 2005. Wal-Mart is asserting a statute of limitations, as well as claiming that most workers waived their breaks. uring discovery, Wal-Mart produced internal audits that reflected what they called "a chronic problem" with the meal breaks. A significant verdict against Wal-Mart could significantly affect settlements of the dozens of similar cases currently pending in California.
The case is entitled Andrea Savaglio v Wal-Mart Stores Inc., C-835687, Alameda County Superior Court, Oakland, California.