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Walmart agrees to pay $65 million to settle lawsuit over seating for California cashiers

Walmart agrees to pay $65 million to settle lawsuit over seating for California cashiers
Walmart has agreed to a $65-million settlement to end a 9-year-old class action over access to seating for its California cashiers. (Dreamstime / TNS)

About 100,000 current and former Walmart cashiers in California might soon be eligible to receive slices of a $65-million settlement that the retailer has agreed to pay after being accused of failing to provide suitable seating for workers who want it.

The proposed settlement was filed in federal court in San Francisco this week. If a judge approves it, it will end a heavily litigated class action that has lasted nearly a decade.

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Filed in 2009 by Walmart employee Nisha Brown, the lawsuit alleges that the retail giant has been in violation of a 2001 California wage order that provides for employees to be given “suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits.”

Walmart denies wrongdoing. The proposed settlement says that the retailer still believes the nature of the work performed by its cashiers does not reasonably permit the use of a seat. It has previously argued that workers need to be able to move around to greet customers, look inside carts and stock shelves. The company has also argued that seating makes cashiers less efficient, that customers prefer cashiers who stand and that providing seating to its cashiers would cause a significant loss of revenue.

Both sides want to settle the case to avoid prolonging a long-running, costly dispute with uncertain outcomes, the plaintiffs’ attorney said in a court filing.

The proposed settlement includes a commitment by Walmart to begin a pilot program that would provide stools for its California cashiers “who express a desire to use them.” It would have to tell its cashiers in California that seating is available and not discriminate or retaliate against workers who sit.

Any California cashier employed by Walmart between June 11, 2008, and the date the settlement is approved would be eligible to claim part of the settlement money. That’s about 100,000 people, court filings say.

The lawsuit was filed under California’s Private Attorney Generals Act, which allows employees to sue their employer also on behalf of other employees and the state. Under the act, employees are entitled to a quarter of the sum awarded to plaintiffs, while the remaining amount goes to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

The payout per employee would depend on how long the person worked a cashier job at Walmart during the last decade. Plaintiffs’ attorney Charles A. Jones said some longtime workers might be able to receive more than $1,000 each.

“Both sides are pleased to have reached a proposed resolution and look forward to the court granting preliminary approval to the settlement,” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in a statement.

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, settlement documents could not be used against Walmart in future litigation.

In 2016, California’s Supreme Court found in favor of CVS workers who wanted to sit down on the job.

"There is no principled reason for denying an employee a seat when he spends a substantial part of his workday at a single location performing tasks that could reasonably be done while seated, merely because his job duties include other tasks that must be done standing," Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote for the court.

Home Depot, Target, 99 Cents Only Stores and JP Morgan Chase Bank have faced similar suits.

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