CHARLESTON – Wal-Mart essentially steals from its employees, according to recently filed class action lawsuit.
Charleston attorney Troy Giatras filed the suit April 3 in U. S. District Court at Charleston. The suit claims Wal-Mart shaved minutes from payroll records.
In the suit, three former employees at the South Charleston store seek to represent every employee Wal-Mart has cheated in West Virginia since 1989.
Giatras' complaint resembled a tantrum. He sputtered the epithet "despicable" more often than Sylvester did in "Looney Tunes." To this, he added malicious, fraudulent, unlawful, intentional, willful, wanton, reckless and other descriptive words.
He claimed punitive damages for conscious disregard of employee rights and asked for injunctive relief that would reform the "corporate culture."
"Wal-Mart convinces its employees that they are part of its 'family,' where they will be rewarded for being a team player and following Sam Walton's rules," the suit says.
Giatras might have crafted the claim from a 2004 New York Times article, a story the paper later detracted.
Giatras, however, seemingly interpreted the retraction as another sign of a wicked plot.
"Wal-Mart attempted to conceal its wrongdoing by causing a retraction to be published, which served to further extend its active and ongoing campaign to fraudulently conceal the nefarious conduct," the suit states.
Giatras similarly argued that Wal-Mart President Lee Scott advanced the plot when he told Neil Cavuto of Fox News that he would fire time shavers.
Giatras also offered as a sign of wrongdoing in West Virginia a verdict from a California court finding Wal-Mart guilty of time shaving there.
Giatras optimistically predicted that the amount would be "specific, certain and capable of identification."
"Such evidence is contained in Wal-Mart's state of the art time keeping system, which requires expert analysis to detect and comprehend," the suit states. "In many instances, the amounts stolen by Wal-Mart from individual class members was small, but in the aggregate, the compensation wrongfully retained by Wal-Mart was substantial ..."
The suit is filed on behalf of Pam Brogan, Jane Markins and Francis Gail Patterson, former employees at Wal-Mart in South Charleston.
Giatras wrote that Wal-Mart operates 30 supercenters, five Sam's Club stores and four discount stores in West Virginia and that in 2004 Wal-Mart generated about $256 billion in revenues and $8.9 billion in net income.
"At last count, Wal-Mart had over 15 million employees nationwide," the suit states, which works out to one Wal-Mart employee for every 20 Americans. "Although Wal-Mart claims in its uniform employee handbook that it 'respects the individual,' and welcomes employees into its 'family,' Wal-Mart unfairly shortchanges its hourly paid employees to obtain higher profitability."
The suit states that Wal-Mart routinely asks employees to complete assignments while not clocked in and that Wal-Mart altered records to make it appear employees took full meal breaks when they worked part of the time.
It also claims Wal-Mart deleted hours over 40 and shaved time through other unlawful means.
The suit seeks damages for conversion, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, and breach of good faith and fair dealing. It also claims violations of West Virginia wage laws.
"Only an award of punitive damages could be sufficient to deter such wrongful and intentional acts, and the despicable conduct of Wal-Mart in stealing labor represented by recorded time from its employees amply merits an award of punitive damages," the suit states.