No single case can fully define a law firm’s mission or its abilities. But there is one case, the Walmart class action litigation over wage practices, that best illustrates the principles that have shaped FDAzar over the past thirty years — its dedication to its clients, its willingness to challenge large corporations on behalf of employees and consumers, and its commitment to achieving fair resolution and positive change. What started as a small lawsuit in Southern Colorado became, over the next 12 years, a cause that affected hundreds of thousands of people across the country and changed, for the better, the way the nation’s largest retailer treats its workers.
In 1995, Franklin D. Azar learned that while Walmart pharmacists received a set salary for a 45-hour work week, they often ended up working many additional hours “off the clock” in order to complete paperwork and other tasks, separate from their duties filling prescriptions. Walmart insisted that the pharmacists were salaried professionals, not hourly workers, and thus not entitled to overtime pay.
Mr. Azar grew up in Trinidad, a small town rich in frontier history, which had seen its share of economic reversals as its coal mining industry declined. Mr. Azar was the youngest attorney ever appointed to Assistant District Attorney for the Third Judicial District, a position he left to start his own law firm in Denver in 1987, dedicated to the goal of providing people with fair and timely compensation for their injuries.
But Mr. Azar continued to maintain ties to his hometown, and immediately became concerned about the way the local Walmart was paying its employees after hearing the former pharmacist’s story about how Walmart had treated him. Mr. Azar believed his law firm could make a difference, so FDAzar filed its first lawsuit against Walmart in Southern Colorado on behalf of a few Colorado pharmacists, accusing the company of failing to pay them overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The case quickly became a national class-action case encompassing close to 700 plaintiffs. FDAzar soon discovered that hourly workers were compelled to work off-the-clock when their shifts ended, and that store management altered time cards to delete the overtime and paid breaks that the workers were entitled to receive. FDAzar filed additional lawsuits on behalf of 67,000 Walmart sales clerks and other hourly employees in Colorado based on Walmart’s unfair labor practices.
Those cases were the first of the class action cases in 26 states that FDAzar brought against Walmart, alleging that the company had systematically violated federal labor laws. FDAzar played a central role in coordinating the litigation, partnering with other firms while serving as lead settlement counsel or co-lead settlement counsel in many of the cases. The results are a matter of record:
The FDAzar Walmart Lawsuit List
- 2000: Walmart settled an action brought by hourly workers in Colorado for $50 million.
- 2001: FDAzar helped initiate a class action on behalf of 116,000 current and former Walmart employees in California who had been denied lunch breaks, in violation of state law. A four-month trial in Oakland resulted in a jury award of $172 million, including $115 million in punitive damages. The action was later settled while on appeal.
- 2006: A Pennsylvania jury awarded $78 million against Walmart in an action over rest breaks and off-the-clock work. The presiding judge subsequently increased that award to $188 million to include damages, interest, and attorneys’ fees. After years of additional argument in state courts concerning the judgment, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Walmart’s appeal.
- 2008: Walmart reached a $54.25 million settlement in Minnesota, where 56,000 employees alleged denied rest breaks and other state labor law violations. Before the action settled, Walmart was facing potentially much greater costs. As reported in the New York Times, the presiding state judge had ruled that Walmart “had violated state laws on rest breaks and other wage matters more than two million times and could as a result face more than $2 billion in fines.”
- 2008: Walmart announced that it would settle 63 class actions pending across the country involving hundreds of thousands of current and former hourly employees, committing to pay $352-$640 million. While the settlements represented an end to most of the wage-and-hour litigation Walmart was facing, they also signaled Walmart’s readiness to move beyond the mistakes of past management and implement policies that would more vigorously protect employees’ rights and ensure they got the pay — and the rest periods — to which they were entitled. As the New York Times noted, Walmart executives maintained that the Company “had already corrected wage practices that it has long attributed to local managers acting without authority.”
FDAzar was instrumental in bringing these cases to a successful conclusion, resulting in more than $750 million in verdicts and settlements. FDAzar attorneys successfully represented plaintiffs in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee — and were part of the trial teams that produced multi-million dollar verdicts in California and Pennsylvania.
The Walmart cases demonstrate the resolve, tenacity, and ability of FDAzar when it comes to class action lawsuits and other forms of complex litigation. Taking on the nation’s largest retailer was a test of the firm’s determination, resourcefulness, patience, and ability to work with others to achieve the best result for its clients. FDAzar is proud of what it accomplished for current and former Walmart workers, and looks forward to the opportunity to help others seeking accountability from large corporations.
If you have suffered damages as a result of unfair business practices, data breaches, or corporate misconduct, the attorneys at FDAzar may be able to help. Speak to a member of our class action and complex litigation team today. The consultation is free.