Wal-Mart has been ordered to pay $172.3m (£98m) to California workers it prevented from taking meal breaks, in the second of more than 40 similar suits facing the world’s largest retailer.
The jury’s verdict came after a three-month trial in which Wal-Mart was accused of not allowing 116,000 current and former employees to take lunch breaks, or to receive compensation for missing them, over a four-year period.
The case began in 2001, when five store employees claimed they were not compensated after being forced to work through their breaks. The case was then extended to cover thousands of other workers in California, where employees working more than five hours must get 30-minute breaks or an extra hour’s pay.
In a statement, Wal-Mart said the case was about old compliance issues and denied breaking the law.
The company said it planned to appeal because it felt the punitive damages were disproportionate to the severity of the claim.
Wal-Mart’s stated policy prohibits employees from working unpaid overtime and the company says it pays workers for breaks that are interrupted.
But the retailer has been found guilty in the past of forcing employees to work ‘off the clock’.
In 2002, about 90 Oregon Wal-Mart employees were awarded $2,000 (£1,100) each, after working unpaid overtime for five years, while a Colorado case on the same issue was settled for $50m (£28m).
The retail giant also came under fire from US unions last year, after a leaked memo revealed that managers were being encouraged to give overweight workers more physically demanding duties.