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December 23, 2005
Jury Says Wal-Mart Must Pay $172M for Meal-Break Violations

A jury has awarded $172 million in damages, including $115 million in punitive damages, to Wal-Mart employees who accused the giant retailer of violating California law covering meal breaks, the New York Times reports.

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The employees accused Wal-Mart of violating a state law requiring employers to allow workers a half-hour meal break during any work period of more than 5 hours per day.

Plaintiff's attorneys tell the newspaper that they argued that the company violated the law eight million times from January 1, 2001, to May 6, 2005.

The company says it will appeal.

"Wal-Mart has acknowledged it had compliance issues when the statute became effective in 2001," the company said in a statement. "The problems were also experienced by other employers in the state of California . Wal-Mart has since taken steps to ensure all associates receive their meal periods, including adopting new technology that sends alerts to cashiers when it is time for their meal breaks. The system will automatically shut down registers if the cashier does not respond."

The company says it will argue that a recent court decision prevents the employees from recovering punitive damages in the case.

"In short, California law prohibits penalties on top of penalties," the company said in the statement.

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