Tyson Foods’ appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court over a $5.8 million class action judgment upheld by two lower courts is being argued this month before the high court.
Early reports from the oral arguments suggest skepticism by several of the justices as to why Tyson was arguing this case. Justice Anthony Kennedy reportedly said during an early phase of the hearing that he didn’t understand the arguments Tyson Foods’ counsel was making and at least four other justices also questioned the cause for argument, according to media covering the hearing.
The core questions being examined by the Supreme Court Justices deal with the protocol for gathering plaintiffs in a class action suit and the extension of liability to hundreds of “class members” who were not injured and have no legal right to damages.
The meat giant claims that the “class action status” shouldn’t automatically apply but that only those actual workers impacted should be allowed to sue. Tyson’s objection to the judgment deals with the use of statistics to determine liability and damages.
The verdict and judgment Tyson Foods is appealing deals with underpaid workers at an Iowa pork facility. These meat packers sued in 2007 seeking pay for the time they spent putting on and removing protective gear related to their jobs dating back to 2005. The Tyson employees also sought to be paid for the time they spent walking to their work stations. Tyson Foods employs about 1,300 workers in the Iowa meat processing facility, but more than 3,300 workers were part of this class action suit.
The plaintiffs were awarded a $5.8 million settlement by a federal court in Iowa in 2011. The judgment was then upheld by an appeals court in 2014. Tyson has said repeatedly that the method used to certify this plaintiff class were in conflict with other circuit courts.
“We were initially involved in this case because federal wage and hour laws are not precise in determining how to compensate certain activities. However, we’re now addressing another aspect of the case: whether there’s enough evidence for the case to be certified as a collective or a class action,” Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said in June when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
“Since even the federal courts of appeal are divided over the requirements necessary to be part of such cases, we asked the U.S. Supreme Court to get involved. We’re pleased our request has been granted and look forward to presenting our position,” Sparkman added.
The protocol of class action status being applied when it used statistical averages to certify a class has previously been protected by a 1946 Supreme Court precedent and Tyson Foods is asking the court to reverse that stance. A ruling is expected by the end of June.