Tyson Foods to pay $250K in donning-doffing case

by Bryan Salvage
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. —Tyson Foods Inc. violated federal labor standards for not paying production line employees at one of its plants for time taken to don and doff protective and safety equipment, a federal court has ruled. As a result, the company was ordered to pay $250,000 in damages, according to the Nov. 4 ruling in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

The U.S. Department of Labor, which originally filed the suit seeking $5.8 million in back wages, made the announcement Thursday.

Tyson provided background to this case in an e-mail to MEATPOULTRY.com. It explained a wage and hour lawsuit was filed in 2002 by the U.S. Department of Labor (D.O.L.) against Tyson Foods Inc.

"The D.O.L. alleged workers at Tyson’s Blountsville, Ala. poultry plant [which employs approximately 800 people] should be paid for certain pre- and post-shift and meal period activities, such as putting on and taking off sanitary and protective clothing," the statement read. "During closing arguments, the government argued the jury should award as much as $8 million in compensation for these activities over a nine-year period, beginning in May 2000."

Tyson’s statement said jurors concluded there was some uncompensated work activity at the Blountsville plant during the time period in question; however, the amount they awarded was $250,000 — about 3% of what the D.O.L. requested, the statement continued.

"The D.O.L. lawsuit also alleged Tyson failed to keep adequate and accurate records of all of the hours worked by Blountsville employees during the nine-year time period. However, the jury rejected the government’s claim and found no violation of federal recordkeeping requirements," Tyson said.

The company relayed it "appreciates the jury’s service in this complex case" and it will now evaluate the implications of the verdict and determine what its next steps will be.

This case is another example of an ongoing nationwide legal debate over what types of activities are compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the statement continued. "Rather than litigate, we would rather see the Department of Labor and others work cooperatively with industries such as ours to bring some clarity and consistency to this complex issue," the statement said.

The Labor Department said the case now goes into mediation to determine whether a corporate-wide injunction should be implemented across all of Tyson's facilities, possibly meaning more payments could be required by Tyson.

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