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June 3, 2016

SCOTUS Upholds $5.8 Million Settlement for Tyson Workers in Overtime Pay Lawsuit

Thousands of Tyson Foods employees have recently been handed a decisive victory from the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), which voted 6 to 2 to uphold a $5.8 million settlement awarded by a lower court for Tyson’s overtime pay violations.

The Allegations

According to court documents for this case (Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo et al, Case No. 14-1146), Tyson had allegedly failed to adequately pay employees at an Iowa meat processing plant for the time they spent putting on (donning) and taking off (doffing) protective gear.

This protective gear was essential to the safe performance of “grueling and dangerous” tasks, such as slaughtering hogs and preparing meat for processing and shipment.

As the complaint explains, Tyson allegedly:

  • Paid minimal time for the donning and doffing of protective gear – In fact, before 2010, Tyson reportedly only added between 4 and 7 minutes of pay for this activity (i.e., “K-code” minutes). After 2010, the K-code minutes per shift were increased to between 20 and 22 minutes.
  • Failed to keep records regarding how long it took employees to don and doff protective gear – This aspect of the case seemed to impact Tyson’s defense, which contended that there was a significant variation in how much time it took workers to don and doff protective gear (based on their specific job duties). In fact, Tyson even argued that, in some cases, it only took employees between 10 seconds and 5 minutes to don and doff this gear. Because, however, Tyson had not compiled or retained any records regarding how long it took employees to don and doff their protective gear, this aspect of Tyson’s defense fell short of convincing the high court to rule against the plaintiffs.

The High Court’s Ruling

Upholding the District Court’s decision in this case, SCOTUS ultimately ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who included 3,344 Tyson employees. Writing the high court’s concurring opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy explained that:

It bears emphasis that this problem appears to be one of petitioner’s own making. Respondents proposed bifurcating between the liability and damages phases of this proceeding for the precise reason that it may be difficult to remove uninjured individuals from the class after an award is rendered. It was petitioner who argued against that option and now seeks to profit from the difficulty it caused.

As part of its ruling, SCOTUS also noted that Tyson Foods reserved the right to challenge individual payments to employees who were not eligible to overtime pay as part of this settlement.

Contact a Los Angeles Employment Law Attorney at the Azadian Law Group, PC

If you have been the target of wage theft – or any violation of your rights as a California worker, contact a Los Angeles employment law attorney at the Azadian Law Group, PC for a free case to review to find out more about your options for recovery and justice.

You can call us at 626-449-4944 or send us an email via this contact form to find out more about how we can help you. If you choose to move forward with us, you will not have to pay us any legal fees until or unless compensation is secured for your case.

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