On March 22, 2016, the Supreme Court upheld a $5.8 million judgment against Tyson Foods in a pay dispute between the company and more than 3,000 workers. In the case, Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, workers sued to be paid for the time spent putting on and taking off protective work clothes and equipment before slaughtering and processing animals. In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings in favor of the workers.
The court held that the workers were permitted to rely on statistical evidence regarding the length of time it took them to put on and take off protective equipment to prove their case, even though there would be individual variability in time spent among the workers.
The court explicitly rejected the argument by Tyson and its backers to broadly rule out statistical evidence in these types of cases. This case both affirms that workers may be entitled to payment for time spent putting on and taking off protective equipment, and that workers may rely on statistics to prove damages and liability. Companies should be aware of this area of potential liability and they may now face increased damages exposure.
Justices Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsberg, Stevens, and Roberts. Justice Roberts also wrote a concurring opinion, and Justices Alito and Thomas dissented.