US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has left a $2.9 million jury award as is in a class action lawsuit against Tyson Foods. The lawsuit was filed by workers who were not paid for time spent putting on and taking off required protective gear.

Justice Kennedy Says Jury Verdict Might Not Stand

While the jury verdict wasn’t thrown out, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opined that he wasn’t sure how that money would be distributed among the workers. Some –- perhaps hundreds -– didn’t work enough to reach the 40 hours per week required by the Fair Labor Standards Act to receive damages.

Several attorneys have weighed in on the ruling, with one saying that even though the justices didn’t throw out the verdict, if Tyson chose to challenge the method by which the money was distributed, the inference is that the Supreme Court would agree with Tyson.

Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts noted that uninjured plaintiffs can’t be compensated by class action lawsuits. The decision by the court lets statistical evidence continue to be used in class action cases, at least those that deal with companies that don’t keep accurate employee time records.

Employees Sampled to Determine Times for Workers

One of Tyson's main complaints is that the time records of 53 employees out of 3,344 workers were used to determine how much time it took to put on and take off the protective gear. It varied from just over 30 seconds to over 10 minutes. The average time of the 53 employees was 18 minutes. Using that average, there would be 212 workers who wouldn’t have exceeded the 40-hour threshold. If the time was dropped to 15 minutes, there would be about 400 more who would be eliminated.

Justice Thomas said that employers will now have to track the uncompensated hours that are worked or face a possible class action lawsuit later on that uses statistical sampling.

Class action lawsuits on employment matters can often lead to changes in company practices. Common disputes in employment class actions include wage and hour laws, discriminatory pay or hiring, sexual harassment and more. An experienced class action attorney can provide more information on how these cases proceed.

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