The Eighth Circuit has affirmed a $5.8 million judgment awarded to a class of Tyson Foods Inc. employees in a compensation dispute over the time they spent putting on and taking off protective gear. The court said a lower court properly certified the workers’ claims under both the Fair Labor Standards Act and Iowa state law. The court affirmed a jury verdict and awarded liquidated damages to workers challenging the company’s so-called “gang time compensation system,” in which workers alleged they were paid only during the time they are present on the actual production assembly line and not for time spent donning and doffing protective gear. The panel’s ruling affirms the lower court’s decision to certify the worker’s FLSA claims as a collective action and their Iowa state law claims as a class action.
The plaintiffs, who first brought the suit in 2007 alleging violations of FLSA and Iowa state law, comprised of employees at Tyson’s meat-processing facility in Storm Lake, Iowa. The workers claimed that Tyson’s existing policy for compensating donning and doffing time was insufficient to cover compensable pre- and post-production line activities. In September 2011, an Iowa jury found that the plaintiffs had proven that the time they spent donning and doffing hard hats, work boots, hairnets, aprons, gloves and earplugs constituted an indispensable part of their work at Tyson plants. The verdict awarded the workers $2.9 million, and a subsequent ruling on liquidated damages upped the total final judgment to $5.8 million.
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