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A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied Walmart Inc. a rehearing in a lawsuit that now leaves the carrier with a lower court judgment to pay a large certified class of its California truck drivers more than $54 million in back pay for mostly layovers and rest breaks.
By a 2-1 vote, the panel decided to deny Walmart’s petition for a rehearing, despite a “friend of the court” brief supporting Walmart, submitted by American Trucking Associations, the California Trucking Association, CRST Expedited Inc. and U.S. Xpress Inc.
Walmart now has 90 days from the Feb. 20 appeals court ruling to decide if it wants to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the 10-year-old lawsuit. Legal experts say if it does not appeal the case, Walmart could attempt to negotiate the judgment, or pay it outright.
A Walmart spokesman said the company has not yet made a decision on its next step.
“We continue to believe that our truck drivers are paid in compliance with California law and often in excess of what California law requires,” said the spokesman, Randy Hargrove. “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 disagree with the decision.”
On Jan. 6, the appeals court upheld a federal district court’s jury decision that awarded the drivers $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 amicus brief said the trucking industry has a “strong interest in the outcome of this case, which has major implications for the treatment of time that drivers spend off-duty in a truck’s sleeper berth under California wage law.”
One of the key issues in the lawsuit was whether Walmart had to give its drivers back pay because the company required them to check in before leaving the workplace.
Walmart Battles Back Pay
In its request for a rehearing filed last month, Walmart said that on a few key issues, the federal district court made erroneous rulings, most importantly related to the question of whether Walmart had control of the drivers during their layovers and breaks.
“After all, every motor carrier has an obligation — both to the motoring public and to its customers — to impose some conditions on drivers before they go off-duty, such as requiring that the driver park the truck in a safe, secure and legal location before beginning an off-duty period elsewhere,” the Walmart supporters’ brief said. “No motor carrier would expect that such minor, routine limitations on drivers’ ability to unilaterally go off-duty would represent the kind of control that renders the off-duty time compensable.”
But the appeals court’s ruling said, “Walmart and plaintiffs propose several bases for reversal in this admittedly complex case, but ultimately none holds water. Following over a decade of litigation, a robust motions practice and a 16-day trial, we conclude that the judgment should stand.”
Walmart ranks No. 4 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in North America.
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