Pennsylvania Court Finds Employee Handbook Creates Contract, Upholds $187.6 Million Award

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The year 2011 saw a number of employee-friendly changes to the laws governing the workplace. The U.S. Supreme Court expanded the scope of retaliation claims under Title VII and under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) implemented regulations further broadening the definition of “disability” under the ADA. The National Labor Relations Board actively protected employee social media use. And the EEOC has cracked down on inflexible leave of absence and attendance policies.

Pennsylvania courts have not shied away from the action. In 2011, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld one of the largest awards in a wage and hour class action in the state’s history. In Braun v. Wal-Mart, the court awarded $187.6 million in back wages, damages, and fees to employees of Wal-Mart stores throughout Pennsylvania for paid rest breaks they were not permitted to take. Approximately 187,000 current and former hourly Wal-Mart employees claimed that the employee handbook promised paid rest breaks, but they were forced to work during those breaks and were not compensated for the missed breaks.

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