The Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with thousands of workers at an Iowa pork processing plant who had sought to band together in a single lawsuit to recover overtime pay from Tyson Foods.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 6-to-2 decision, said the plaintiffs were entitled to rely on statistics to prove their case. The ruling limited the sweep of the court’s 2011 decision in Walmart Stores v. Dukes, which threw out an enormous employment discrimination class-action suit and made it harder for workers, investors and consumers to join together to pursue their claims.
The Tyson workers performed tasks that were “grueling and dangerous” at a plant in Storm Lake, Iowa, Justice Kennedy wrote, slaughtering hogs, trimming the meat and preparing it for shipment. They sought to be paid for the time they had spent putting on and taking off protective gear to prevent knife cuts.
Tyson did not keep records, and the workers tried to prove their damages based on an expert witness’s statistical inferences from hundreds of videotaped observations of how long it took the workers to get ready.
The company objected, saying there was wide variation in how long the extra work took and that some workers were not entitled to overtime at all.
But Justice Kennedy said statistical proof was sufficient.
“A representative or statistical sample, like all evidence, is a means to establish or defend against liability,” he wrote. “Its permissibility turns not on the form a proceeding takes — be it a class or individual action — but on the degree to which the evidence is reliable in proving or disproving the elements of the relevant cause of action.”
The workers in the case, Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, No. 14-1146, had won about $6 million. The money has not yet been distributed, and Justice Kennedy said the company remained free to challenge payments to workers who were not eligible for overtime.
The decision was the second victory for plaintiffs in the three class-action cases the court has heard this term.
Source: New York Times