U.S. retail giant Walmart lost a $54 million lawsuit filed by about 850 of its truck drivers who claimed the super store intentionally failed to pay the California workers the minimum wage. The California federal jury Nov. 23 verdict exposes the retailer to additional civil penalties in the future, set to be determined by a judge.
The seven jurors found the company guilty of failing California law for not adequately paying drivers for activities that included mandatory rest breaks, layovers between trips and pre- and post-trip truck inspections, Fortune reports.
The company was ruled not to pay backpay to the drivers for certain tasks, such as washing and fueling trucks.
Current and former Walmart truck drivers in California had previously filed a 2008 lawsuit against the retailer for paying drivers by activity and mileage rather than hours worked. The truckers claimed the latter system of payment was more in accordance with state law.
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Walmart terminated its original compensation plan in 2015.
The group of Walmart drivers are seeking backpay compensation of $72 million in damages, most of it for layovers, for the time worked between October 2005 and October 2015. During the trial, lawyers for the group stated additional penalties and damages could increase the total backpay amount awarded to more than $150 million, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, has been heavily criticized and taken to court over how it pays and treats its employees.
The plaintiffs' lawyers said the drivers were not paid minimum wage for layovers even though the company required them to be with their trucks.
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The retailer countered that it paid for activities that involved smaller tasks, some of which lasted just minutes, and could not issue an itemized payment designation for every activity undertaken by the drivers.
"When you pay a baker $20 to bake a cake, what are you paying that baker to do?" Walmart attorney Scott Edelman said in court. "Is it just to put the cake in the oven for however long? Because that's essentially what the plaintiffs are arguing."
Walmart grants an extra benefit of $42 for 10-hour overnight layovers to drivers but it allows its drivers to spend the time as they see fit, Edelman pointed out.
The company claims its drivers are among the industry's highest-paid, with some pulling in more than $100,000 a year.