The United States Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a group of pork processing plant workers, who argued that they were entitled to overtime wages for time spent “donning and doffing” (changing in and out of soiled work clothes). The Court held that statistical evidence could be used to determine overtime wages, because the employer failed to keep proper records. Some have speculated that this will lead to an uptick in litigation because plaintiffs in other class actions may now be able to use statistical evidence to support their cases.
The plaintiffs in this case were 3,344 workers employed in the kill, cut and retrim departments of a Storm Lake, Iowa pork processing plant owned by one of America’s largest meat producers, Tyson Foods, Inc. The employees specifically alleged that Tyson violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Law. The workers filed their suit in an Iowa Federal District Court in 2007. The Court certified the class action the following year.
Details of the Trial
At trial, the plaintiffs submitted a study performed by Kenneth Mericle, an industrial relations expert. Mericle had examined how long it took employees to don and doff their work clothes. After examining 744 videotape recordings, Mericle concluded that it took the cut and retrim workers approximately 18 minutes per day to don and doff, while the kill employees spent just over 21 minutes a day changing clothes. After reviewing this evidence, the jury awarded the workers $2.9 million in wages.
Tyson appealed the ruling, but the Supreme Court affirmed. The Court found that because Tyson neglected to keep proper records, the representative evidence of the videotapes could be relied upon to estimate the hours that plaintiff employees had actually worked. Although some have expressed concern that allowing class action plaintiffs to rely on representative evidence will overburden the courts, the court limited its ruling to the facts and circumstances presented in this case alone. If future class action plaintiffs wish to rely on representative evidence, they will have to demonstrate that use of statistical methods is fair in their particular circumstance.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus and Green Pursue Compensation for Workers Denied Overtime Pay
Federal and state laws require most employers to pay one and one half times the regular rate (“time and a half”) for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. In Pennsylvania, workers may collect unpaid overtime up to three years after the date the pay was earned.
If you have been denied overtime wages, the experienced Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. To schedule a consultation, call us at 215-574-0600 or contact us online today. With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey.