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Walmart hit with $27 million judgment for denying employee work breaks and overtime pay
Orange County, Ca.
   
 
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(CN) — A federal judge on Wednesday awarded a former Walmart pharmacist with $27 million in total damages, agreeing that the retail giant routinely denied her work breaks and overtime pay.

The case was originally filed by former Walmart pharmacist Afrouz Nikmanesh in Orange County Superior Court in 2015, but was later moved to the Central District of California.

Nikmanesh said Walmart told her to obtain her immunization certification, which would allow her to provide on-site immunizations to pharmacy patients, but refused to compensate her for the time she spent studying and preparing for the exam. She also claimed that getting the certification increased her workload several times over, but said Walmart refused to provide additional staffing to meet the increased demand.

“In most surveys, pharmacists rank as the 2nd most trusted professionals in America. However, can you really trust an overworked pharmacist that is deprived the opportunity to take a break to recharge before attending to patients’ needs, multiple doctor’s offices, and insurance companies, all while trying to stay within compliance of pharmacy laws and regulations?” asked Nikmanesh in a piece she published in 2015 about the case.

The ruling includes $40,000 for economic losses; $100,000 for non-economic losses; $60,000 for future non-economic losses; and $27.3 million in punitive damages.

In the original complaint, Nikmanesh claimed she was denied overtime wages along with meal and rest breaks, forced to perform work off the clock studying for and taking the immunization certification exam and given inaccurate wage statements that didn’t account for the hours she actually spent working

She said Walmart enacted a policy prohibiting its pharmacists from leaving the pharmacy unattended, adding that this made it impossible for her to take her legally mandated meal and rest breaks. Because of a shortage of pharmacists who could cover for her, she said she was effectively forced to work throughout their shifts without pause.

Walmart also committed numerous pharmacy violations and instances of noncompliance with state law, according to the plaintiff, including charging Medicare beneficiaries above the Medi-Cal reimbursement rate for prescriptions and failing to provide eligible patients with a Medicare discount.

She also said Walmart failed to report necessary data to the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, otherwise known as the CURES program, a database of controlled substance prescriptions dispensed throughout California which requires pharmacists to file weekly reports with the California Department of Justice.

Nikmanesh reported these violations to her supervisors sometime between July 2013 and September 2014 and asked that they investigate and correct the various compliance issues. Walmart responded by firing Nikmanesh in September 2014, which she claims was solely in retaliation for her complaining about their non-compliance with state laws.

The company also failed to reimburse Nikmanesh for business expenses, didn’t give her a bonus that she earned, refused her request to host a health fair promoting the pharmacy, unfairly denied her promotions and gave her a poor performance review shortly after she complained about their illegal practices, according to the lawsuit.

“The Jury of 8 unanimously found that Ms. Nikmanesh’s reporting of Walmart’s overcharging Medicare customers over the age of 65 and persons under the age of 65 with disabilities for their medications and not properly reporting the dispensement of controlled substances to the Department of Justice under the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System program was a substantial motivating reason for Walmart’s decision to retaliate against and discharge her,” explained Dayton B. Parcells III, lead attorney for the plaintiff.

Judge Jesus G. Bernal with the Central District of California issued the judgment on Wednesday.

Representatives for Walmart were not immediately available for comment.

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