In a recent blog post, we began discussing the numerous lawsuits being waged against Tyson Foods related to allegations that the company continues to violate provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and engage in time-keeping practices which essentially amount to wage theft. We began discussing the 2007 lawsuit which was filed by some 3,000 low-income workers from one of the company's food processing plants who were granted class action status in their battle to recover wages which they assert the company failed to pay them.
In 2011, a jury ruled against Tyson in the case and awarded the plaintiffs $3 million related to lost wages and another $3 million in damages. While the $6 million settlement figure is mere pocket change for Tyson, the company had an ulterior motive in mind when it appealed the lower court's decision.
When attorneys for Tyson Foods stood before members of the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month, they were likely disappointed by the justices' stance with regard to their case and general argument. It turns out that the $30 billion company doesn't just want the higher court to overturn the lower court's ruling in this most recent FLSA violation case. Rather, Tyson wants the court to "issue a broad ruling that would effectively immunize it against future class actions for wage and hour theft."
Tyson's appeal hinges on the argument that the 3,000 plaintiffs should never have been granted class action status because their positions are too dissimilar. Therefore, attorneys for the company argued, workers should have been forced to file separate lawsuits with each being responsible for factoring the time for which they were allegedly not paid.
This argument, however, was not well received by the justices who noted the very similar job positions and job requirements the plaintiffs shared. Several justices also scoffed at the notion that the methods used by the plaintiffs' attorneys to estimate the average wage loss was somehow insufficient given the similar methods employed by Tyson for its entire time tracking program.
This case illustrates exactly why it’s so important that employees are granted class action status.
Source: Mother Jones, "Tyson Foods Wants the Supreme Court to Block Its Employees From Suing for Wage Theft," Stephanie Mencimer, Nov. 10, 2015