WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling awarding $5.8 million against Tyson Foods Inc. in favor of more than 3,000 workers from an Iowa meat-processing plant who were not paid for the time they spent putting on and removing required protective clothing and traveling to their work areas.
Attorney Mike Hamilton in the Nashville, Tennessee, office of Texas-based Provost Umphrey Law Firm worked as co-lead counsel to help win the original verdict in Iowa federal court in 2011, according to a press release.
The jury's award in the Fair Labor Standards Act case later was entered as a final judgment of $5.8 million, which Tyson appealed to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court upheld the verdict in 2014 before Tyson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"My clients are extremely happy that this matter has been resolved so they can finally get the wages they have been owed for years," said Hamilton. "It is rare for the Supreme Court to agree with class-action plaintiffs, which demonstrates the strength of these workers' claims. What's fair is fair, and fairness is exactly what this ruling will accomplish."
The workers sued because they were not paid for the time they spent putting on and taking off hard hats, work boots, aprons, gloves, earplugs and other protective gear at the Tyson plant in Storm Lake, Iowa. The same workers also were not compensated for the time they spent traveling to and from their workstations in the massive plant.
During the original trial, the plaintiffs relied on averages and statistical models to calculate the time the employees spent changing clothes and getting to and from their workstations. Tyson argued that the methodology was flawed because some workers spent more time than others completing the off-the-clock tasks.
In a 6-2 opinion issued March 22, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Tyson's arguments, finding that the statistical model used by Hamilton was permissible evidence and that the workers essentially had no other means to calculate their unpaid time since Tyson failed to keep adequate records.
The Supreme Court's opinion was authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy.