pounds 12m for four sacked staff

A JURY has awarded $20m (pounds 12m) to four former employees of a Wal-Mart store in Kentucky after deciding that the company unfairly fired them for eating damaged nuts and confectionery.

The jury deliberated for 90 minutes on Friday before awarding each of the four workers $1m for slander, $1m for embarrassment and mental anguish and $3m in punitive damages. The judgment was against both Wal- Mart and the Monticello store manager.

Virginia Stringer - who also received $20,000 for loss of wages - Reual Ed Angel, Donnie Brummett and Tina Sparks had all worked at the store for about six years when they were fired in 1995. They were confronted by management with videotaped evidence that they had eaten cashews and breath mints from packages damaged in shipping, said their lawyer, Larry Rogers.

He said snacks in torn or damaged packages could not be sold and were unwanted by the manufacturers.

Wal-Mart claimed during the three-day trial the four violated a company pilferage policy.

The tapes showed the four did eat a small number of nuts and mints. But the employees maintained that they were following an unwritten policy in which such food was left in lounges for employees - and managers - to consume. (AP)