A California judge approved a $5.9 million settlement last week ending Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) claims accusing Walmart of refusing to provide suitable seating for cashiers stationed around its stores in the state, with the judge complimenting the parties for ending the dispute on a “very professional” note.
According to the settlement details, after attorney fees and other costs are deducted from the gross settlement amount, the deal will provide over $3.75 million for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, or 75% percent of the net sum as required under PAGA. The remaining 25%, or approximately $939,655, is to be distributed in proportional shares to aggrieved employees.
During a hearing where the parties appeared remotely, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Timothy Patrick Dillon complimented the attorneys on their work in the case and said he would enter a judgment approving the settlement.
"Thank you for solving this in the way that you've done it," Judge Dillion said. "You've done it in a very professional, good and nice way and I hope the that the settlement goes smoothly from this point going forward."
Mark Chen, who works at a Walmart in Lakeside, California, claimed in the 2020 suit that he is required to stand for the duration of his shift as a money center cashier. His job entails waiting for customers to approach and ringing up merchandise for customers while standing in a fixed location, Chen said.
In 2018, Walmart inked a $65 million deal with front-end cashiers in Golden State stores, agreeing to provide them with seating upon request. But Walmart still doesn't provide seating for cashiers who work elsewhere, such as in the stores' garden centers or electronics departments, according to Chen's complaint.
Sitting would not interfere with his job performance or with the quality and effectiveness of his work, Chen told the court. Still, he and his colleagues in similar positions are forced to stand while their front-end counterparts are indeed provided with seating, he said.
Chen's suit sought to represent all California Walmart employees who worked at least one shift in a position in which they processed a sale transaction away from the stores' front-end cash registers between August 2019 and the resolution of his case. That includes cashiers working at Walmart's smoke shops, specialty shops, mall shops, hardware department and sporting goods department, per the suit.
Chen lodged his suit under PAGA, which allows plaintiffs to enforce California Labor Code on the state's behalf, sharing a portion of the recovery with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.
According to the settlement details approved by the court Wednesday, attorney fees from the settlement are not to exceed $1,966,666.65, litigation costs are not to exceed $85,000, administration costs are not to exceed $77,000, and Chen is set to receive a general release payment of $15,000.
The settlement also notes that while PAGA claims share some similarities with class actions, a PAGA claim is "really an enforcement action pursued on behalf of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency" and is not a class action. The payments come to an average of $7.65 per pay period for approximately 29,000 "aggrieved employees" for pay periods between Aug. 26, 2019, and March 2022, according to the settlements.
With up to 771,000 pay periods covering the time span, Walmart was facing a maximum penalty exposure of over $77 million if the court imposed an initial violation amount of $100 per pay period, according to the settlement. But the plaintiffs would face difficulty in establishing how may pay periods were subject to potential violations due to decisions about seating being made on a store-by-store basis and without detailed documentation on the issue, according to the settlement.
Walmart disputes that any seating violations occurred, according to the settlement.
"We are pleased we were able to resolve this matter," Walmart said in a statement.
Counsel for the parties didn't immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
Chen is represented by Charles A. Jones of Jones Law Firm and Matthew Righetti of Righetti Glugoski PC.
Walmart is represented by Tritia M. Murata, Wendy J. Ray, Maya Harel, Karen J. Kubin and Byung-Kwan Park of Morrison & Foerster LLP.
The case is Mark Chen v. Walmart Inc., case number 20STCV43043, in California Superior Court, Los Angeles County.