Workplace Wise - Iowa Employment Law Attorneys

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in 8th Circuit FLSA Case

By Megan Erickson Moritz

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo on November 10, 2015. The outcome of the case could significantly change the way wage and hour collective actions and class actions are litigated.

In this case, Tyson Foods challenges a $5.8 million judgment awarded to employees of its meat processing facility in Storm Lake, Iowa. The employees brought claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Law (IWPCL) seeking unpaid wages for time worked off the clock. A jury returned a verdict for the class, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, Tyson argues the case never should have been certified as an FLSA collective action or a Rule 23 class action because the plaintiffs relied on statistical evidence and average times employees spent putting on and taking off personal protective equipment. The two issues presented to the Court are:

          I.    Whether differences among individual class members may be ignored and a class action certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified under the Fair Labor Standards Act, where liability and damages will be determined with statistical techniques that presume all class members are identical to the average observed in a sample.

II.   Whether a class action may be certified or maintained under Rule 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified or maintained under the Fair Labor Standards Act, when the class contains hundreds of members who were not injured and have no legal right to any damages.

Tyson argues the standards governing collective actions should be on par with those announced in the 2011 Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes case, which emphasized the importance of establishing commonality to justify class certification. That is, plaintiffs must demonstrate their claims turn on a “common contention… capable of class-wide resolution.” The Dukes Court disapproved of “Trial by Formula,” and suggested claims for individualized relief (such as back pay) are not appropriate for class treatment. Tyson, and many other businesses, hope the Court’s decision in this case will reaffirm the exacting standards for obtaining class or collective action certification.

If you have any questions about wage and hour issues, please do not hesitate to contact Megan EricksonMoritz for more information.

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