Walmart challenges appeals court $55M ruling in trucker wage lawsuit
January 24, 2020
Shortly after a federal appeals court panel upheld a nearly $55 million trucker wage lawsuit against Walmart, the giant retailer has decided to continue fighting the verdict.
On Tuesday, Jan. 21, Walmart filed a request for an en banc rehearing with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On Jan. 6, a three-judge panel for the court affirmed a lower court’s award of $54.6 million to Walmart drivers.
Walmart had three choices: pay up, petition to the U.S. Supreme Court or request for all Ninth Circuit judges to rule on the appeal. The company chose the latter.
In its original appeal, Walmart’s argument was largely based on the legal merits of the allegations. This time around, the company is arguing the appellate panel was wrong about an issue of discovery during the district court case.
Specifically, the retailer claims that as class members either dropped out, were forced out or died, attorneys for the plaintiffs compelled discovery during district court proceedings that forced Walmart to provide them with contact information for potential new clients.
Walmart argues this goes against Article III of the Constitution, specifically, Section 2, which deals with federal courts authorized to hear actual cases and controversies only. Furthermore, such use of discovery conflicts with precedent in the Ninth Circuit court.
In its decision, the appellate panel ruled that Walmart waived its chance to challenge the abuse of discretion.
Walmart also argues that the appellate panel erred in affirming the district court’s decision in granting summary judgment to plaintiffs on the issue of control. Truckers argued that the company had complete control over every minute of their lives while on a tour.
The appeals court ruled that under California law, “time drivers spent on layovers was compensable if Walmart exercised control over the drivers during those breaks.” The panel also agreed “that Walmart’s written policies, if applied as written, resulted in Walmart exercising control over employees during mandated layovers as a matter of California law.”
However, Walmart is arguing the court ignored its evidence showing how those policies worked in practice. By doing so, the court “inverted the universally accepted standard for summary judgment,” the rehearing request states.
Also, the retailer claims the decision parts from California Supreme Court precedent that makes it “clear that the question of ‘control’ cannot be boiled down to the ‘simplistic proposition’ that anything less than ‘complete freedom of movement’ renders nonwork time compensable.”
From here, the Ninth Circuit can approve a rehearing with the panel or all circuit judges or deny the request. If the request is denied, Walmart can either petition to the U.S. Supreme Court or let the $54.6 million ruling stand.