Court Decides Workers Right to Sue
The Supreme Court is hearing a case that could end workers rights to form a class action lawsuit.
We got this story from Cristian Farias and Dave Jamieson over at The Huffington Post. Listen to UCOMM Radio this Sunday night on 770 WABC, where Cristian will be discussing the case and how it could impact workers.
Workers who band together to sue their employers over wage theft or discrimination are about to have their biggest day in court in years.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a crucial case that could tighten the rules dictating how workers and consumers band together in the first place -- which could limit their ability to bring class-action lawsuits and other collective actions against corporations.
The case, Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, involves a group of pork-processing workers in Iowa who claimed the meatpacking giant shorted them on overtime pay. The employees sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act in 2007, arguing they should have been compensated for the time it took to put on and take off the safety equipment they were required to wear while they worked. A jury eventually agreed, resulting in a $5.8 million judgment in favor of roughly 3,300 workers.
Now, Tyson wants the hefty award thrown out. The company does not dispute that the workers should have been paid for the hours in question. Rather, Tyson argues that the statistical method a court used to determine damages for the workers was legally bogus, and that the workers therefore aren't eligible to sue collectively.
At issue are the federal rules of procedure judges must follow when “certifying” a class of plaintiffs -- the first step in all class-action cases. Both plaintiffs and corporations put up their biggest legal fight at the certification stage, which can easily take years to complete. If a handful of workers can’t adequately show that they represent a "class" of thousands, the certification fails and the case essentially dies. Each employee is then left to sue on their own, and most don’t have the resources to do that.
For worker advocates, that could be a big setback. An individual meatpacking worker who was shorted on pay might be owed a few hundred or thousand dollars -- probably not enough to entice a lawyer to pursue her case alone. But when workers join together in large classes, there's a greater incentive for attorneys to represent them. The Supreme Court, for its part, has been all too eager to stiffen the highly technical rules of class actions, often to the detriment of plaintiffs.