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Statistics may stump Tyson in wage case

The U.S. Supreme Court may allow the use of statistics for a class action lawsuit by Tyson employees for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This proof, if allowed, would be unique to this class-action lawsuit.

These employees, from a Tyson pork processing plant in nearby Iowa, filed the lawsuit for wages for the time they spent donning and taking off protective gear and other functions related to their work. Tyson did not maintain any records. Therefore, the workers sought to prove their damages from an expert witness's statistical inferences from the hundreds of videotaped observations on the length of time it took for the employees to prepare.

In this case, a trial judge allowed more than 3,000 workers to join this lawsuit. Over $6 million would be awarded, but it was unclear how it would be distributed among the workers. Tyson objected to this type of proof and argued that it conflicted with a U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting statistical proof in an employment discrimination case. It also claimed that these workers, performing over 400 jobs, did not have enough in common to pursue identical claims. Tyson argued that the workers spent varying amounts of time that were required to perform these dressing and washing tasks, and that the workers performed different task with different requirements.

The workers argued before the Court that averaging was appropriate because the gear was similar. Several justices compared this case to an earlier decision where an employer did not keep adequate records. It allowed the introduction of evidence showing the extent and amount of work that allows reasonable inferences.

This case demonstrates the possible perils to employers who do not keep adequate wage records or understand the overtime requirements of FLSA and Minnesota law. Getting the right information about legal options can help employers avoid these employment disputes and other contract disputes with employees, and protect their interests during investigations and litigation.

Source: The New York Times, "Supreme Court hears case for Tyson Foods class-action lawsuit," Adam Liptak, Nov. 10, 2015

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