Jury Sides With Tyson Workers In FLSA Class Action

Law360 - Bibeka Shrestha
March 17, 2011

A jury in Kansas awarded more than $500,000 to a class of Tyson Foods Inc. meatpacking workers Wednesday after finding the company had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by refusing to pay employees for time spent donning and doffing protective gear.

After hearing evidence for seven days, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas found that Tyson Foods and Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. had violated both the FLSA and the Kansas Wage Payment Act.

The jury concluded that FLSA violation were willful despite Tyson’s protestations that any errors it made under the federal labor law were made in good faith. The finding allows the plaintiffs to receive the total value of unpaid wages as liquidated damages.

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The jury awarded the class more than $166,000 for Tyson’s FLSA violations and more than $336,000 for state law violations, but found the meat processor did not owe payment for rest breaks taken by the plaintiffs. The court will next determine liquidated damages under the FLSA as well as an award of plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs . . . .

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In the long-running suit, the meat processing workers accused Tyson of not paying them for time spent donning and doffing protective gear, walking to and from work posts and taking brief rest breaks.

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The collective action, launched in 2006, centered on Tyson beef-processing plants in Holcomb and Emporia, Kan. The Holcomb plant employs about 2,500 hourly production workers, while the Emporia plant employed about 2,000 hourly production workers until Tyson stopped slaughter operations at the plant in February 2008. That plant now employs about 800 people.

Judge John W. Lungstrum granted conditional collective action certification in the case in February 2009.

On Jan. 31, the judge denied summary judgment motions from both sides, finding the case contained enough disputable issues of fact to make summary judgment inappropriate.

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The plaintiffs are represented by Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP, Outten & Golden LLP and Garcia & Antosh LLP.