Tyson Foods is appealing an order by Judge Linda Reade of the U.S. District Court of Northern District of Iowa. Reade’s order sends the ongoing negligence lawsuit filed by the family of Isido Fernandez, a former Tyson employee who died in April from COVID-19, back to state court.
Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods, said the company had no comment on the matter.
The Fernandez family sued Tyson Foods in August after their loved one died on April 26, after contracting the COVID-19 virus that engulfed the Waterloo community and Tyson’s pork packing plants in Iowa. Fernandez was one of more than 1,000 positive COVID cases in the community, many of which worked at Tyson Foods.
In August, Tyson requested the case be heard in federal court as the company was ordered to keep meat plants open by an executive order from President Donald Trump issued in late April. The executive order also provided some liability protection for companies that stayed open and followed the protocol handed down from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies.
Reade noted in her order the death of Fernandez occurred two days before the executive order was signed and she remanded the case back to Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County. She said Tyson would not have protection from negligence claims even if the order had been in place prior to the worker’s death.
City leaders in Waterloo asked Tyson Foods to shutter the plant in early April as the number of positive cases and deaths began to rise in the community. Tyson shut down the plant over a week later as the number of deaths in the community soared to 138 over a two-week period. Tyson closed the plant on April 22 and tested all of its 2,800 employees for COVID-19. Tyson said in early May the Waterloo plant had 44% of employees test positive. The plant re-opened May 7 under the protocol provided by CDC and other state and federal health officials.
Tyson was sued by at least five other families of deceased workers in the Iowa meatpacking community and has since fired plant management in the Waterloo facility after court records uncovered top plant managers did not take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously as they gambled on who might become ill in the plant. Tyson immediately suspended the plant managers and began an investigation into the matter. Tyson Foods CEO Dean Banks said Dec. 16 the company had fired seven managers at the Waterloo plant following an independent investigation into the wagering allocations.
“We value our people and expect everyone on the team, especially our leaders, to operate with integrity and care in everything we do,” Banks said in December. “The behaviors exhibited by these individuals do not represent the Tyson core values, which is why we took immediate and appropriate action to get to the truth. Now that the investigation has concluded, we are taking action based on the findings.”