Supreme Court Will Hear Tyson Foods Appeal of Class Action Pay Award

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 9, 2015

The Supreme Court announced yesterday it will hear a challenge by Tyson Foods of a $5.8 million class action judgment involving more than 3,000 workers at the company's Iowa pork-processing facility. The workers claimed Tyson violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay them for time spent putting on and taking off protective clothing and equipment, as well as for time spent walking to their work stations.

Tyson's appeal centers on the lower court's use of statistics to assess damages for the class instead of deciding damages individually for each employee. The trial court allowed the workers to prove damages to the class with evidence that likened all class members to an "average employee." A divided 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the damages award, finding that the class was properly certified.

However, Tyson claims that many of the workers suffered no injury. As a result, the company argues those workers had no right to any damages. Business groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, are supporting Tyson's position. They view the case as a way to reduce statistical sampling.

The case is significant because the Supreme Court has cut back on class action litigation in recent years, most notably with its 2011 ruling in Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes. In that sex discrimination case, the Court held that a class of more than 1.5 million female workers should not have been certified because there was no proof the women had suffered the same injury.

How the justices resolve Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo could have implications for a host of employment-related class actions in the future. The Court will hear arguments in the case during its next term, which begins in October 2015.