By Jack Katzanek
The Press-Enterprise

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A federal judge has denied Wal-Mart’s request to be removed from a lawsuit filed by Inland Southern California distribution workers. The decision means that it is now likely the world’s largest retailer will have to answer workers’ allegations in open court.

Judge Christina Snyder, in a ruling issued Tuesday, Jan. 14, decided that Wal-Mart will remain a defendant in a case filed by workers more than two years ago. The lawsuit alleged a wide pattern of wage-and-hour violations at an Eastvale distribution center that supplies goods to its stores.

The judge also ruled that Schneider Logistics, the company that was the primary operator of the Hamner Avenue warehouse, must also remain a defendant in the suit. Both companies sought summary judgments that would have effectively ended their involvement with the case.

Schneider Logistics and two contractors that recruit and hire workers for distribution facilities, Impact Logistics and Premier Warehousing Ventures, were sued in October 2011 by current and former workers who alleged that they were paid less than minimum wage, denied overtime pay, paid for fewer hours than they actually worked and did not receive the legally mandated records for the hours they worked.

All the goods at the warehouse are shipped to Wal-Mart stores, and the plaintiffs asked to have Wal-Mart added to the lawsuit in December 2012. The workers in this case are being assisted by Warehouse Workers United, a worker advocacy group backed in part by organized labor.

Theresa Traber, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said in an interview that Wal-Mart had sought to avoid answering these claims because they claim they were not the employers of record. That did not convince the judge, Traber said.

“I think her order was very strong,” Traber said. “We submitted huge amounts of evidence to support our contention, and her decision validated that evidence.”

According to court documents, Wal-Mart either owns or leases the warehouses it uses and provides the necessary equipment. Schneider Logistics handled the day-to-day operations, but Wal-Mart supervisors were on the site of the Eastvale facility daily, monitored the productivity of the workers and had input about hiring practices.

For example, according to the court’s report it was at Wal-Mart’s direction that the warehouse went to an alternative work week in 2008, and Wal-Mart also initiated the hiring of Impact Logistics and Premier Warehousing Ventures as contractors who provided staffing.

Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said that the judge’s ruling does not mean that the Bentonville, Ark.-based company is a joint employer at the Eastvale facility. He said the company is looking forward to presenting its case during the next phase of the case.

“We make sure the third parties we work with follow the law and maintain proper workplace standards,” Lundberg said.

Erin Elliott, spokesperson for Green Bay, Wis.-based Schneider Logistics, declined to comment on the decision, citing the ongoing litigation.

Traber said the plaintiffs will file a motion seeking class-action certification next month, and a hearing on that in the Central District will be held in June. No date for a trial has been set, she said.