Supreme Court to Hear Tyson Challenge to Damages in Worker Pay Class Action

By | June 10, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to take up Tyson Foods Inc.’s challenge to an almost $5.8 million judgment awarded against the company over worker pay at an Iowa meat-processing facility in a case that gives the nine justices a new chance to curb class action litigation.

In a case that will be closely watched by the business community, which has sought to limit big-money class action payouts, the court will consider the company’s objection to the use of statistics to determine damages instead of assessing individual damages for each plaintiff.

Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, had asked the Supreme Court to take the case.

The court took no action on a similar case filed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which is challenging a $187 million judgment over its treatment of workers in Pennsylvania.

The Supreme Court has in recent years cut back on class action litigation in several rulings, the most notable of which was a 2011 case that involved Wal-Mart.

In the Tyson case, workers at a pork facility in Iowa sued in 2007, claiming they were entitled to overtime pay and damages because they were not paid for the time spent putting on and taking off protective equipment and walking to work stations. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judgment in an August 2014 ruling.

The Chamber of Commerce said in its brief backing Tyson that the case gives the court a chance to “address ongoing abuses in class action litigation and to restore proper constitutional limits on lawsuits involving individuals who have suffered no injury.”

Tyson said in a statement on Monday that it asked for the Supreme Court to weigh in because “federal courts of appeal are divided over the requirements necessary to be part of such cases.”

The employees are represented by Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.

“Obviously we are disappointed that the court decided to grant review, because our clients prevailed below, but we are confident that when the court analyzes the case, it will conclude that the lower courts applied the correct legal standards and reached the correct result,” Public Citizen attorney Scott Michelman said.

Oral arguments and a ruling are expected in the court’s next term, which begins in October and ends in June 2016.

The case is Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-1146.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Topics Lawsuits USA

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