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A federal jury considering how much Wal-Mart Stores Inc. should compensate employees who worked unpaid overtime ruled Tuesday that 83 workers are entitled to payments. The jury assessed each case individually and rejected money for 25 employees in the second phase of a trial that highlighted working conditions at the nation’s largest private employer. The decision comes 14 months after a federal jury in Portland, Ore., became the first in the nation to rule that Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, made employees at 18 Oregon stores work unpaid overtime from 1994 to 1999. About three dozen similar suits against the retailer are pending nationwide. Exact compensation for each worker is still to be determined. Payments are expected to be relatively modest, ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand per worker, based on roughly 30 to 60 minutes of overtime per week. Attorneys for the plaintiffs called Tuesday’s mixed verdict a victory. “The jury found that they did work off the clock, and should be compensated for it,” said James Piotrowski. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company was disappointed the jury found any employees had worked overtime without pay, a violation of company policy, but said the final award came to only a tiny fraction of the initial pool of plaintiffs. “The jury returned a verdict awarding substantially fewer unpaid, off-the-clock hours than were originally sought,” spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said. Of more than 15,000 employees solicited to take part in the suit, only 425 agreed and 108 went to a jury to decide an award, she said. U.S. District Court Judge Garr King asked the attorneys to present the court with an approximate dollar value for the overtime hours, and said the court would later decide how much Wal-Mart would pay. “There won’t be a judgment for some time,” King said. Wal-Mart could also be liable for attorney fees. The jury, different from the one that found Wal-Mart had imposed the unpaid overtime, began deliberating on damages last month. Attorneys for the former and current employees had said their clients were sometimes locked inside stores until other workers completed their jobs, and then told to pitch in off the clock, or asked to work through meal breaks. Lawyers for Bentonville, Ark.,-based Wal-Mart, though, had questioned the credibility of the former employees, and whether they exaggerated the number of hours they worked. Wal-Mart attorneys also said managers were trying to encourage teamwork. Before the Oregon trial, Wal-Mart had settled similar lawsuits alleging unpaid overtime before the complaints could go to trial. Judges also dismissed class action status in a dozen other cases. Wal-Mart has about 1.2 million employees and nearly 3,500 stores in the United States. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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