© Dreamstime/Fresno Bee/TNS A Walmart truck driving on the interstate on a cloudy day near Bakersfield, Calif., in 2018.

A Fresno, Calif., law firm has scored a major victory with a U.S. Court of Appeals decision upholding a multi-million-dollar verdict for about 700 Walmart truck drivers.

Lawyer Nicolas “Butch” Wagner of Fresno successfully represented the California truck drivers who filed a class-action lawsuit against the mega-retailer nearly a decade ago for short-changing their pay. About 100 of the truck drivers are from the Fresno area.

“We are elated,” said Wagner, of Wagner Jones Kopfman & Artenian. “This has been an eight-year battle and we knew we were on the right side of this. These guys work about 14 hours a day and have dangerous jobs. They work hard and they finally got justice.”

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The truck drivers alleged in their lawsuit that Walmart was not paying them for specific parts of their job, including waiting in line to load or unload their cargo, time spent to fill out federally mandated trip slips, inspecting their trucks, and washing and fueling their trucks.

After a 16-day trial in 2016, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded the truck drivers $54 million. The final amount will be higher because the judgment has accrued interest, Wagner said.

Amid a mass nationwide truck driver shortage, Walmart has upped the ante by raising driver salaries to $87,500 a year, on average, beginning this February, in a bid to attract the hundreds of. Walmart says drivers average $80,000-$100,000 per year. In January 2019, CBSNews reported, a new drive to raise current driver pay. Walmart says a driver will now earn $87,500 on average during the first year. Drivers in the the company’s northeast region will earn a 5 percent premium on mileage and activity pay.

Lawyers representing Walmart appealed the decision to the U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth District in San Francisco. That decision was issued Monday.

Walmart’s argument

Walmart’s lawyers, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher of Los Angeles, argued that the district court did not have jurisdiction to decide the case and the jury should not have awarded damages for layovers, rest breaks and inspections.

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But the panel, in its decision, wrote that the district court “correctly concluded that, under California law, time drivers spent on layovers was compensable if Walmart exercised control over the drivers during those breaks.”

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Wagner said Walmart required the drivers to stay near their trucks during layovers, yet they were not being paid for that time.

“When you are under control of your employer, you have to be paid,” Wagner said.

Attorneys with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher could not be reached for comment Monday. Walmart has the option to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

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