* US appeals court says class certification improper
* False imprisonment, illegal harbor claims rejected
* Wal-Mart says expects contractors to comply with laws
(Adds Wal-Mart comment, paragraph 12)
By Jonathan Stempel
Aug 9 Wal-Mart Stores Inc has defeated
an appeal by immigrant janitors who accused the world's largest
retailer in a lawsuit of unfair labor practices, encouraging
illegal immigration and locking them inside stores at night and
A panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Philadelphia upheld rulings in 2010 and 2011 by a New Jersey
federal judge that blocked the workers from suing as a class,
and rejected their claims that Wal-Mart acquiesced in illegal
Gilberto Garcia, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not
immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday's
The plaintiffs in the nearly nine-year-old case, first
brought in November 2003, included illegal immigrants who worked
for contractors and subcontractors the Bentonville,
Arkansas-based retailer hired to clean its stores.
They accused Wal-Mart of trying to clean its stores "on the
cheap" by paying contractors it knew hired illegal immigrants,
who might be tolerant of lower pay and unfair work conditions.
They added they were coerced to work by threats to report their
immigration status to authorities.
The plaintiffs said that, while Wal-Mart was not their
direct employer, it exercised control over their activity.
Often, they said, Wal-Mart locked them inside at nights and on
weekends to prevent theft and keep federal agents from finding
Writing for a three-judge appeals court panel, Circuit Judge
D. Brooks Smith upheld rulings in Wal-Mart's favor by U.S.
District Judge Garrett Brown in Newark, New Jersey.
The judge said the proposed class of plaintiffs should not
be certified, noting they worked in 180 different stores in 33
U.S. states, for 70 different contractors and subcontractors,
and for varying hours and wages.
He also found that, while the plaintiffs plausibly alleged a
conspiracy to commit money laundering, this did not support a
broader allegation that Wal-Mart conspired to harbor illegal
immigrants or encourage illegal immigration, in violation of a
federal anti-racketeering law.
Finally, the 3rd Circuit rejected the false imprisonment
claim, saying Wal-Mart offered evidence that its stores had
unobstructed emergency exits.
According to the opinion, Wal-Mart has resolved claims of
some individual plaintiffs under the federal Fair Labor
Standards Act through a series of settlements.
Randy Hargrove, a Wal-Mart spokesman, in a statement said
the retailer is pleased with the decision. "Wal-Mart works to
comply with all laws and expects our service providers to do the
same," he said.
In June 2011, Wal-Mart was also the winning party in a U.S.
Supreme Court decision that made it harder to pursue
class-action lawsuits, and which decertified a class of more
than 1 million current and former female workers alleging gender
The case is Zavala et al v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc, 3rd U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 11-2381.
(Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Andre