Tyson Pays $32 Million to Settle Donning and Doffing Lawsuit

On September 15, 2011, a class action wide settlement was approved on behalf of workers at 41 Tyson poultry plants. More than 17,000 Tyson employees had participated in the lawsuit in which plaintiffs claim they had not been properly paid for putting on (donning) and taking off (doffing) required protective gear prior to and after the close of their daily shifts. These practices by Tyson, the lawsuit alleges, are in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The settlement for $32 million dollars was approved by the US District Court in Georgia. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, not a party in this case, issued a press release stating that each current and former Tyson worker would receive a payment of approximately $1,000. The spokesman for Tyson, Gary Mickelson, reported that the terms of the settlement are such that public commentary is not allowed either from the company or the plaintiffs. Mr. Mickelson also stated that the matter was settled satisfactorily.

Around the same time that Tyson's competitor, Perdue Farms, Inc., reached an agreement with the Department of Labor (DOL) regarding pay practices for time spent donning and doffing, the DOL filed a similar suit against Tyson Foods Inc. in Alabama. The suit alleged that Tyson violated the FLSA and that back wages and liquidated damages should be paid to current and former employees. Additionally, the complaint sought an injunction restraining Tyson from future violations of the FLSA at all of its domestic poultry processing facilities.

In the agreement that the Department of Labor reached with Perdue Farms Inc. in 2002, the company decided to change current and future pay practices at all of its U.S. facilities to compensate workers for the time they must spend donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE). Under the Consent Judgment, Perdue Farms agreed to retroactively pay its processing employees on the production line an additional eight minutes each workday for time spent putting on and taking off certain clothing and equipment, as well as developing an initiative to record and pay employees for such activities going forward. The agreement was estimated at that time to be worth approximately $10 million for Perdue's current and past employees.

So, the gamble made by Tyson several years ago, with the decision not to pay for donning and doffing did not pay off, and now the company is paying $32 million to compensate employees for the time they spend putting on and taking off personal protective equipment (PPE), which are essential tasks in order to perform their job duties, according to a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus, Ga. Workers sued the company, stating they were deprived of compensation for the time they spent putting on and taking off PPE, time they considered part of their job. Tyson settled a similar dispute last year with the Labor Department by agreeing to change its compensation policy.

Tyson Pays $32 Million to Settle PPE Donning and Doffing Lawsuit, by Sandy Smith, EHS Today, September 20, 2011.

Perdue Farms Settles, Tyson Foods Fights Donning and Doffing Disputes, EHS Today, May 10, 2002.

Tyson Settles Donning, Doffing Case for $32M, Meatpoultry.com, September 20, 2011.