Walmart requests payout delay in sleeper berth case

Walmart Inc. has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to hold off on requiring the company to pay a $60.8 million judgement to approximately 800 drivers until Walmart decides whether it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court — and the high court decides whether to hear the case.

Last week the 9th Circuit denied a petition by Walmart [NYSE: WMT] to rehear the case after the appeals court had upheld a lower court’s decision in which a jury awarded $54.6 million — plus an additional $6.2 million in restitution awarded by the court — to former California truck drivers for time spent in sleeper berths during layovers between trips.

Walmart said in a Thursday filing with the appeals court that it is obligated to pay an additional $12.9 million in fees and $1.5 million in other costs.

“Walmart will be harmed absent a stay because it will likely be forced to pay a judgment of more than $74 million that will be distributed to a class of more than 800 truck drivers, many of whom are former employees,” Walmart stated. “Once that money is distributed, Walmart has no reasonable means of recovering it in the event that the [9th Circuit’s] decision is ultimately reversed.” Excluding the fees and costs, the award would amount to $76,000 for each of 800 drivers.

The company further contends that the stay on the payout is warranted because its petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court — if it files one — will raise substantial questions, such as “the circumstances in which class action plaintiffs may invoke against an employer the presumption of compensable time established by Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680 (1946), and reiterated in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, 136 S. Ct. 1036 (2016).”

The plaintiff drivers in the case, represented by “Charles Ridgeway, et al.,” are current and former long-haul drivers employed by Walmart in California. They sued the company for failing to pay them for the time they spent performing certain nondriving activities, Thursday’s filing noted, including 10-hour layover breaks, 10-minute rest breaks, and pre- and post-trip truck inspections, in violation of California’s minimum wage law.

The drivers argued they should be paid the additional wages, which would be equal to the difference between Walmart’s “layover fee” and the minimum wage they would be entitled to under state law. The initial ruling covered employees who drove for Walmart from 2004 to 2015, with restitution added for drivers beyond that date, which includes current drivers.

In a ruling issued Jan. 6, a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit found that the drivers were entitled to compensation under California law because Walmart had exercised control over their schedules during federally mandated layovers and other breaks. State law requires that employees be paid a minimum wage covering the entire time they are under an employer’s control.