NJ High Court OKs Class-Action Case Against Wal-Mart

The New Jersey State Supreme Court Thursday certified a class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) filed by employees who allege the retailer deprived them of rest and meal breaks while forcing them to work "off the clock."

In a 5-1 ruling, the state's highest court revived a lawsuit by about 72,000 current and former New Jersey employees who had previously been denied class-action status by trial and appellate courts.

The court said it certified the status because "common questions of law and fact predominate over individualized questions" and class-action is the most effective way to settle the matter.

"We're disappointed with the decision and we are studying the opinion," Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley told Reuters.

"It's important to note that the judge's decision was not on the merits of the complaint, but whether or not it should proceed as class action. An increasing number of courts have ruled that cases like this are not suited for class treatment."

According to the lawsuit, the employees contend the world's largest retailer failed to compensate the workers for all time worked by forcing them "to work through meal breaks, locking employees in retail stores after they had clocked out, and by coercing employees to work off the clock."

Hourly employees working between three and six hours are entitled to a paid, 15-minute break. Shifts exceeding six hours garner two such breaks along with a thirty-minute, unpaid meal break, according to the company's guidelines.