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Monday, June 15, 2015

Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo: Supreme Court Will Revisit Class Action Standards

In Bouaphakeo v. Tyson Foods, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ (8th Cir. 2014), the plaintiffs sued their employer, Tyson, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state law. They alleged that Tyson failed to compensate them for time spent donning and doffing personal protective equipment and clothing and time spent transporting these items from lockers to the production floor.

The district court certified the case as a FLSA collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. At trial, the plaintiffs "proved liability and damages by using individual timesheets, along with average donning, doffing, and walking times calculated from 744 employee observations." The jury returned a verdict in favor of the employees, and the court entered judgment. Tyson appealed, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed, holding as follows:

The district court did not err in granting certification. Tyson had uniform policies that affected all class members, and time studies showed that the employees were underpaid. Certification was proper even if evidence at trial showed that some employees worked no overtime and could not recover damages.

The employees did not rely improperly on a formula to prove liability and damages at trial. The employees proved liability "for the class as a whole, using employee time records to establish individual damages." Because Tyson had no records of actual donning, doffing, and walking time, the employees could show their damages "as a matter of reasonable inference."

The Eighth Circuit opinion is available here.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari on June 8, 2015. Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, case no. 14-1146, will be heard next term. SCOTUSblog, which is the best resource for all things SCOTUS, has a page for the case here

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