Walmart will pay $65 million settlement for denied seating

A class of almost 100,000 current and former cashiers at California Walmart stores reached a settlement last week with the retail giant. Walmart will pay $65 million to settle allegations that it violated California law by refusing to provide the cashiers with a place to sit while they work. The company will also provide the requested seating but denies any wrongdoing.

The settlement must still be approved by a federal judge.

Providing seating "when the nature of the work reasonably permits" is required by California law. The regulation was first adopted in 1911 and applied to women in the retail industry. It has been enhanced and expanded over the years.

The attempted defense

In its defense, Walmart had argued that the nature of cashier work does not reasonably permit being seated. For one thing, it claimed that stools at cash registers would create a safety hazard. For another, it said that cashiers must be able to scan large items, lean over to see items left in shoppers' carts, bag customers' purchases and perform some of their work away from the register.

Moreover, it argued that it does provide stools to cashiers who have diabetes or other medical conditions by policy, and that store managers can use their discretion in other cases.

"No principled reason for denying a seat"

The retailer's position, however, flies in the face of the 2016 California Supreme Court ruling in Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc. That case was joined with others, including Walmart, so Walmart should have been familiar with the ruling.

"There is no principled reason for denying an employee a seat when he spends a substantial part of his workday at a single location performing tasks that could reasonably be done while seated, merely because his job duties include other tasks that must be done standing," that opinion reads.

It's true that the California Supreme Court ruled that the determination of whether the nature of certain work reasonably permits sitting should be made by considering the totality of the circumstances. However, the seating regulation has always applied to retail cashiers. The 2016 California Supreme Court ruling dealt with virtually the exact same issue. It's hard to see how Walmart had any viable defense.