Menards faces a barrage of class action suits for wage theft

Menards had workers give up their right to sue, no matter what happens, as a condition of employment.

Menards had workers give up their right to sue, no matter what happens, as a condition of employment. Mike Kalasnik

Three federal class action suits accuse Menards, the Wisconsin home improvement chain, of withholding overtime pay, forcing workers to toil through their breaks, and failling to compensate employees for attending mandatory company meetings.

The first was filed in Indiana by Maurice Bradley, formerly an hourly worker in Menards' manufacturing division. He alleges that Menards used a "compensation scheme" of requiring workers to clock out for any amount of time spent in breaks, including the mere minutes it takes to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, or smoke a cigarette. Menards would then subtract wages accordingly, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, Bradley's suit argues.

Ohio retail worker Carrie Santti alleged she would lose about $50 every work week due to the same company-wide policy.

And another Ohio suit, filed by distribution center worker Lyndsey Neal, complains that Menards failed to pay full overtime for workers who routinely averaged 45- or 50-hour work weeks, and did not compensate employees for the time they spent attending mandatory warehouse safety meetings.

In its answers to the lawsuits, Menards denied that it broke any federal labor laws. The company also tried to dismiss the cases and compel mandatory arbitration -- taking the lawsuits out of open court and settling them privately, without the right of appeal.

Menards showed that each plaintiff had signed a mandatory arbitration agreement prior to their employment, reading "Arbitration shall be the sole and exclusive forum and remedy for all covered disputes of either Menard, Inc., or me."

The workers pushed back, pointing out that Menards had agreed in 2016, as part of an unfair labor practice settlement before the National Labor Relations Board, that it wouldn't force employees to waive their rights to sue.

Holding out hope that the U.S. Supreme Court would absolve the company of that promise, Menards asked for all three lawsuits to be put on hold until Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis is decided. This case, which asks whether mandatory arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act, was heard by the Supreme Court on October 2.