Judge to allow warehouse workers to sue Wal-Mart

US District Judge Christina Snyder, in tentative ruling, says workers can add store

By Laura Hautala
Daily Journal

Warehouse workers on Monday took a step toward adding Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to
their putative class action against warehouse owner Schneider Logistics Inc. and
several staffing companies for wage theft and workplace safety violations.

U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder of the Central District tentatively ruled that
the workers acted appropriately in waiting more than a year after filing their law suit
before trying to add the big-box retailer as a defendant.

“The Court finds no bad faith in the fact that plaintiffs have waited until this stage of
the litigation to add Walmart as a party,” Snyder wrote in the tentative opinion.

The workers, who load and unload trucks at two Mira Loma warehouses that supply
Wal-Mart stores, filed their law suit in October 2011. Six workers originally filed the
suit, and 230 total workers have joined as plaintiffs. Carrillo v. Schneider Logistics
Inc., 11-CV-08557 (C.D., filed Oct. 18, 2011).

Snyder’s Monday ruling will allow warehouse workers to test in court their theory
that Wal-Mart serves as a “joint-employer” with the warehouse operators who hire and
supervise them.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs moved to add Wal-Mart as a defendant after months of
discovery. A group of attorneys from throughout the state represent the workers,
including Theresa M. Traber, a partner at the Law Offices of Traber & Voorhees in
Pasadena, and Kevin R. Kish from Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles.
Wal-Mart has denied any role in the working conditions at the warehouses, saying
that the warehouse operators employ the workers. Attorneys from Steptoe & Johnson
LLP, led by Lawrence A. Katz of Phoenix, could not be reached for comment, nor could
a spokesman for Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart asked Snyder not to allow workers to name them in the suit, arguing the
workers deprived them of discovery time and caused undue prejudice against the
company by waiting until the last possible day – Nov. 30, 2012 – to request the change.

“This Court should not allow plaintiffs to ‘game’ the system with such bad-faith
maneuvering by adding a major new defendant just a few weeks before the crucial class
action certification motion is to be heard,” attorneys for Wal-Mart wrote in their
opposition to the request.

Snyder disagreed with Wal-Mart’s arguments. “Plaintiffs have provided the Court
with the sensible, good faith explanation that they did not seek to name Walmart as a
defendant until this stage of the litigation because they only recently uncovered
evidence in discovery that justifies this addition,” she wrote.

Michael Rubin, a partner at Altshuler Berzon LLP, who also represents the workers,
said his legal team was “eager” to move forward with the case. But he noted that Snyder
gave Wal-Mart the chance to argue that the complaint doesn’t apply to them because
they don’t employ the warehouse workers.

Rubin said the time spent collecting discovery before adding Wal-Mart was well
spent. “We used that to form quite detailed allegations why Wal-Mart is a joint
employer.”

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