Walmart Janitors File Lawsuit, Could Have Big Impact

Walmart immigrant contract janitors have returned to the courtroom with a second version of a class action lawsuit. If it succeeds, it could have a big impact on the retail giant as well as other "deep pocket" employers.

The first run at this was a class action suit, which the judge tossed because the work situation of the 17 janitors was too varied to be grouped together in one complaint. The second one, representing a group of another 42 workers, mirrors the first but might be framed in a way to pass muster as a class action lawsuit.

In both lawsuits, reports Charles Toutant in the New Jersey Law Journal, the immigrant contract workers claim they "were denied the wages, benefits or other protections to which they were entitled under law." Some members of this class action suit also contend they "were falsely imprisoned or otherwise confined by the company's alleged practice of locking employees inside Walmart's stores while they worked."

If the second one moves forward then the Walmart brand or corporate reputation could take a hit. For example, some working-class shoppers could be turned off and, as the recovery gains steam, bring their business to Walmart's competition. The same goes for quality employees who could have more choices for where to work when economic growth picks up.

The potential for this public relations mess for Walmart comes because the janitors are claiming that the giant conspired with cleaning companies that hired them to avoid confirming that the immigrants were authorized to work in the United States, paying standard wages, and providing humane working conditions. If proved, these could appear very damaging in howWalmart is perceived.

Of course, it's possible that other deep-pockets companies that employ immigrants on a contract basis could wind up being sued by employees and/or dumped by shoppers. Legal actions that look like they might succeed tend to invite copycat versions.

The lawsuit is called "Zavala v. Walmart Stores Inc."

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