June 5, 2016
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of 3,000 workers from a pork processing plant who brought a single, class-action lawsuit against Tyson Foods Inc. to recover overtime pay. Businesses closely watched the case, hoping new limits on class-action lawsuits would be passed. Much to their dismay, the courts defended the use of statistical evidence for setting financial damages, which many companies have alleged can lead to erroneous financial judgments. The $5.8 million judgment was upheld against the food conglomerate for the violation of labor laws.
The case originated in Storm Lake, Iowa where employees accused the company of withholding pay for the time it took them to put on and take off protective clothing and gear and walk to the slaughterhouse area. According to Justice Kennedy, the Tyson workers did jobs that were “grueling and dangerous,” including slaughtering hogs, trimming the meat and readying it for shipment. The plaintiffs contended that they should be compensated for their preparation time as part of their jobs.
Because Tyson did not keep records of employee hours, attorneys for the workers used statistical experts to approximate the unpaid time. The Tyson case was compared to a 1946 case where a ceramics maker failed to log employee hours, showing that the use of statistical evidence in wage-and-hour cases has been used and accepted for decades. Justice Kennedy upheld the practice and said that the courts should consider each case on its own merits. The particular details and conditions of each case would determine the appropriateness of using calculations based on statistical evidence.
Tyson argued that each plaintiff did not bring individual evidence as to how their injuries occurred. They felt that the workers were inconsistent as to how long the extra work took and that some employees in the lawsuit were not eligible for any overtime.
The federal government has enacted specific laws in order to protect employees, including setting the maximum amount of hours that employees can work before they receive overtime. If your employer has violated Fair Labor Standards Act laws or you have been subjected to working overtime without pay, contact our legal team for help.