SUPREME COURT TO EXAMINE PROPRIETY OF CERTIFICATION OF BROAD CLASS/COLLECTIVE ACTIONS DETERMINING BROAD BACK PAY REMEDIES IN WAGE/HOUR CASES
In a case in which Wimberly & Lawson filed an amicus brief on behalf of the National Chicken Council, the U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari and will rule on a case involving the propriety of broad class/collective actions in wage/hour cases where broad back pay remedies are sought. Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, No. 14-1146. On Monday, June 8, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up Tyson Foods Inc.'s challenge to a judgment for almost $6 million in back pay allegedly due workers at an Iowa meat processing facility. The Court will likely address the propriety of the class or collective action method of proving such damages, at least where statistical techniques are used in the process.
Workers at the Tyson pork processing facility in Iowa filed suit in 2007, claiming they were entitled to overtime pay and damages because they were not compensated for time they spent donning and doffing protective equipment and walking to work stations. Tyson argued that it not only paid workers additional minutes that fairly compensated them for these activities, but also that the method the trial court approved improperly included workers who, according to their own lawyers' calculations, were not entitled to any back pay in the class that was awarded money damages. The National Chicken Counsel (NCC) through Wimberly & Lawson filed a brief in support of Tyson, arguing that resolving the issue of back pay for donning and doffing was of the utmost importance to the industry, where dozens of such claims have resulted in tens of millions of dollars of damages awards.
Wimberly & Lawson argues that using a few dozen dubious statistical samples to determine liability and back pay damages for a class of thousands of employees tramples individual class members’ rights, as well as the employer’s right to assert defenses that may vary as to the circumstances of individual employees. The brief contends that such methods violate due process, the wage/hour laws themselves, and the Rules Enabling Act, a federal law which states that procedural rules cannot be used to change substantive rights. Such erosion of defenses is of great concern as employers could be exposed to legalized extortion by the unprincipled assertion of class and collective claims, and asked the Court to determine whether class and collective actions are being misused to secure the award of damages to individuals who are entitled to no relief.