Ruling That Awarded Walmart Drivers $54 Million Stands, Appeals Court Says

A Walmart store
Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg News

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court’s judgment that Walmart pay a court-certified class of its California truck drivers more than $54 million in back pay for layovers, rest breaks and pre-trip and post-trip inspections.

Specifically the appeals court upheld a 2016 federal district court’s jury decision that awarded the drivers a total of $44.7 million for layovers, $3.9 million for rest breaks, $2.9 million for pre-trip inspections, and $2.9 million for post-trip inspections.

The appeals court held in the more than decade-old lawsuit that the district court correctly concluded that, under California law, time drivers spent on layovers was compensable if the motor carrier exercised control over the drivers during those breaks.

EARLIER: Walmart fights verdict

“Walmart and plaintiffs propose several bases for reversal in this admittedly complex case, but ultimately none holds water,” the appeals court wrote. “Following over a decade of litigation, a robust motions practice, and a 16-day trial, we conclude that the judgment should stand.”

The panel further said that a comprehensive review of the Walmart pay manual demonstrated that it unambiguously required drivers to obtain pre-approval to take a layover at home, and “therefore, the district court did not err in granting partial summary judgment on this issue to plaintiffs.”

The panel also ruled that the district court correctly determined 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, rejecting Walmart’s contention that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act preempted California law governing layovers.

The appeals court held that ... time drivers spent on layovers was compensable if the motor carrier exercised control over the drivers during those breaks.

Walmart had asked the appeals court to erase the lower court’s judgment.

Walmart contended that the district court erred at every step along the way — in concluding that it had jurisdiction, in certifying a class, in interpreting California minimum wage law, in allowing expert testimony, and in providing jury instructions.

“We continue to believe that our truck drivers are paid in compliance with California law and often in excess of what California law requires. We are proud that our drivers are among the best paid in the industry, earning, on average, between $80,000 to over $100,000 per year. We are reviewing the 9th Circuit’s opinion and will explore our options," said Randy Hargrove, Walmart's senior director of national media relations.

Still, drivers claimed that they were not receiving adequate minimum wage pay.

While the appeals court concluded that Walmart acted “reasonably and in good faith,” it agreed with the lower court’s interpretation that Walmart’s policy dictated what drivers could do on layovers and restricted employees from complete freedom of movement during breaks.

Walmart ranks No. 4 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in North America.

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing: