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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Donning and Doffing Lawsuit

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Washington, DCThe US Supreme Court has agreed to hear an unpaid wages lawsuit alleging employees were not properly paid for putting on and taking off protective gear for work. The lawsuit was filed by Tyson Foods employees who won the case when in the lower courts. Tyson Foods appealed the award, however, arguing the class should not have been certified.

Plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit are current and former Tyson employees who worked on either the slaughter or processing floor at the Iowa pork processing plant. The employees allege that they were paid for donning and doffing (referred to by the company as “K-Code” time) but were not properly compensated for all time required to put on and remove protective gear. In 2010, Tyson reportedly revised its “K-Code” time to pay employees 20-22 minutes per shift, but prior to that, employees were paid for 4-7 minutes of “K-Code” time.

Employees initially won the lawsuit, and were given damages and attorney’s fees. They then won the appeal, with the appeals court finding that Tyson conducted its own study that showed employees were not paid for around 29 minutes of work each shift. Furthermore, the appeals court found that Tyson’s own revision of “K-Code” time indicated that the company knew employees were not being paid enough for putting on and taking off protective gear.

Plaintiffs were awarded a final judgment of $5.8 million once liquidated damages were included.

Tyson has now appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the lawsuit should never have been given class-action status in the first place because employees spent different amounts of time putting on and taking off their protective gear. For example, three workers who testified at trial reportedly spent anywhere from 30 seconds to 13 minutes putting on protective gear, Tyson argued.

The Supreme Court has agreed to review the case. Although it will not deal with donning and doffing directly, it will likely make a decision on how class-action certification is applied in future lawsuits.

The lawsuit is Tyson Foods Inc. v. Bouaphakeo et al., case number 12-1146 in the Supreme Court of the United States.

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