STORM LAKE, Iowa — A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 22 that a federal court correctly certified a class action Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lawsuit filed by former and current employees at a Tyson Foods Inc. pork processing plant. The workers had filed a suit against the company alleging that they were underpaid for time spent donning and doffing safety gear. The federal district court certified a class of 3,344 former and current employees at the company’s Storm Lake, Iowa plant who similarly claimed that the company illegally denied them overtime pay for time spent putting on and taking off protective equipment. The certification was largely based on a statistical study that produced average times for putting on and taking off safety gear.
Representative Evidence for Class Certification Acceptable
The decision is significant because it establishes that representative proof is an acceptable methodology to certify classes. The Court held that a representative or statistical sample that establishes an average time workers spent changing into and out of protective gear is a permissible way to establish classwide liability if each class member also could have relied on that sample to establish liability in an individual action. According to the Court, statistics gleaned from a sample of putative class members may be used as the basis for granting class certification based on the degree to which that evidence is reliable in proving or disproving the elements on the relevant cause of action.
However, the Supreme Court also indicated that the district court on remand may have to require that plaintiffs provide some mechanism to identify uninjured members of the class and ensure that those members don’t inflate the damages award or share in the damages themselves.
Class Certification Under FLSA
FLSA allows a plaintiff to bring a collective action on behalf of other employees who are similarly situated who file a written consent with the court. To grant certification, the court must find that there are other employees who:
- Are similarly situated with regard to job requirements and pay provisions; and
- Desire to opt-in to the case.
In this case, Tyson kept no time records on how long plant employees actually took to put on and take off different safety gear. When employers don’t keep time records and employees therefore have no way to establish the time spent doing uncompensated work, the employees may proceed under FLSA if they produce enough evidence to show the amount and extent of that work as a matter of just and reasonable reference. Since the Tyson’s employees had no alternative means to establish their hours worked, using a statistical study to prove they are similarly situated would be sufficient.
Under FLSA, employees may be able to bring class actions on behalf of similarly-situated co-workers whose wage rights were also violated.. You should call (855) 754-2795 or complete the Free Unpaid Overtime Case Review form on the top right of this page to consult with an attorney as to whether you might be able to bring a class action against your employer. Our top-rated team of wage lawyers will evaluate your situation to determine your best course of action. We will also determine if it is in your best interest to file a lawsuit against your employer. There are strict time limitations for filing, so it is important that you call our experienced attorneys today.