Walmart Sues Florida Unions for Protests

The right to unionize has long been recognized as one of the most fundamental legal actions available to American employees. Big-box chain Walmart is now seeking to terminate those employee rights by suing grocery workers unions and other groups that have staged protests at some Florida stores. The corporation is seeking to stop the protests because they have illuminated unsavory working conditions and pay discrepancies.

Walmart does not allow its employees to unionize. Still, grocery store unions and other industry organizations have long voiced their opposition to the company’s actions. Those groups include the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and former employees belonging to a subsidiary known as OUR Walmart.

Representatives from the industry giant say the suit primarily revolves around property rights, but employee advocates argue that Walmart is attempting to silence its critics. The so-called “disruptive” demonstrations have been compromising customer safety, according to Walmart leaders. Also, the union protestors are technically trespassing, according to the suit.

The activities on Walmart property during the past eight months range from organized demonstrations to impromptu “flash mobs.” One group even showcased a video by projecting it on the side of the building. Managers say they have often had to call the police to force the protestors to disperse. In one incident, more than 30 trespass warrants were issued, though no arrests were made.

Employees and organizers say the demonstrations are only designed to bring attention to the poor working conditions inside Walmart’s corporate stores. The embattled industry giant has been under scrutiny for overtime pay violations, gender discrimination and a variety of other claims during recent decades.

Walmart’s decision to prohibit its employees from unionizing is questionable, at best. The mega store will continue to face protests until it improves working conditions. Employees who think their rights have been violated by such massive corporations should seek assistance from a qualified employment attorney.

Source: Reuters, “Wal-Mart sues grocery union, others over Florida protests,” Jessica Wohl, March 25, 2013

Florida retaliation suits are on the rise

According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, retaliation charges in Florida and across the country have more than doubled since 2000.

In 2011, retaliation was the leading charge filed with the EEOC against Florida employers, comprising 39.9% of all discrimination claims. In the same year, the number of discrimination lawsuits filed in Florida’s federal courts also increased 6% from the previous year. Nationwide, such charges accounted for 37.4% of all charges filed with the EEOC.

Sources attribute a variety of factors for the increase in retaliation claims. More employees have access to information regarding the employment law protections available to them. In a sluggish economy, difficulty finding another job after a layoff or termination may cause other workers to resort to retaliation suits.

Another reason may be the probability of success: retaliation charges result in favorable outcomes for employees more than other types of discrimination suits. For example, a sample of 30 retaliation claims resolved in Florida’s federal courts in 2011 shows that 13 received employer verdicts, whereas 17 were resolved either by verdicts for the employee or settlements. The verdicts awarded employees amounts between $5,000 and $200,000; the settlements also included amounts up to $200,000.

In addition, punitive damages are frequently awarded in retaliation lawsuits. Under Florida law, punitive damages are typically awarded when a jury finds that the defendant was guilty of intentional misconduct or gross misconduct, based on clear and convincing evidence. In retaliation cases (not involving unreasonable financial gain), the amount of punitive damages awarded is typically 3 times the amount of compensatory damages received, up to a cap of $500,000.

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you and violated federal or state laws in your workplace, an attorney can help you prepare a claim. An attorney can also protect your rights in the event your employer retaliates against you for reporting unlawful conduct.

Source: Miami Herald, “Impact of retaliation claims on small businesses,” Lori Adelson, July 7, 2012