The United States Supreme Court recently handed down an important ruling that supports workers’ rights to earn fair wages, striking a big blow against corporate corruption.
In the case of Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, the Court held that Tyson Foods is legally responsible for paying $5.8 million to more than 3,000 workers at a pork processing plant in Storm Lake, Iowa. The Court upheld lower court rulings finding that the workers did not receive fair compensation for time spent putting on protective gear. The workers had filed a class action suit against Tyson Foods because the company did not pay them for the time they spent putting on, and later removing, protective work clothes and equipment before and after their shifts at the slaughterhouse.
The workers argued that it wasn’t fair for Tyson Foods to avoid providing compensation for this time since the hazardous work being performed required the employees to don protective gear. The precise legal claim was that the corporation’s policy of not paying for this time was a direct violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), which specifically requires overtime compensation for activities that are integral and indispensable to the work being performed.
Setting an Important Precedent for Workers’ Rights
Most importantly for workers’ rights in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and everywhere else in the U.S. going forward, the Court’s ruling in favor of the slaughterhouse workers means that employees will be able to join together and file class action lawsuits when challenging companies over workplace issues such as inadequate pay and poor work safety standards.
On appeal of the lower court rulings, Tyson Foods, clearly using every trick in the book to minimize the company’s liability, argued that it should not be required to respond to a class action lawsuit because the aggrieved employees had worn different kinds of protective gear, thus suggesting that the workers belonged to different classes.
Remarkably, Tyson Foods also argued on appeal that the company’s own incompetence when it came to keeping track of employee work records meant that there was no way to verify whether the aggrieved employees had, in fact, worked 40 hours per week – which was a crucial number for certifying the class in the class action lawsuit.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion for the Court, said that the employees had every right to use statistics, and to introduce a representative sample, in order to fill “an evidentiary gap created by the employer’s failure to keep adequate records.” Kennedy also chastised Tyson Foods for trying to limit the use of statistical evidence in these kinds of cases, saying that a categorical exclusion of this sort “would make little sense.”
Interestingly, Tyson Foods made its inexplicable arguments despite knowing full well that the company had previously agreed to pay workers at several poultry plants for the time they were required to put on, and remove, protective gear. That case was resolved in 2010, but only after the U.S. Department of Labor stepped in to force the multibillion-dollar corporation to do the right thing and pay workers fairly.
For more information about the most recent case, view the US News & World Report article, “Tyson Foods Ordered to Pay in SCOTUS Ruling.”
You are entitled to be paid fairly for all of the hours you are required to be at work. If you believe that you have not received adequate compensation for your work, or if you feel your rights have been infringed in any way by your employer, the employment law attorneys at Begelman & Orlow, P. C. can help you. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation about your case.