Maxwell v. Tyson Foods: Parties Settle off-the-Clock Claims

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The parties have reached a settlement in an FLSA collective action alleging that certain Tyson Foods employees were not paid for the time they spent putting on and taking off protective clothing before and after clocking in. See Maxwell v. Tyson Foods, Inc., No. 08-00017 (S.D. Iowa Oct. 31, 2012) (Memo ISO Joint Motion for Preliminary Approval). Commonly referred to as a “donning and doffing” case, such allegations are frequently seen where job duties necessitate substantial protective gear and/or pre- and post-work safety procedures, as was the case for Tyson employees working on the production line. Tyson is best known for its chicken products, the processing of which exposes employees to various dangers, including automated slicers and bacteria.

The $950,000 settlement will be divided among two groups, all from a single Tyson plant in Council Bluffs, Iowa: (1) a class of 1,199 employees who used knives as part of their job, and (2) a class of 76 employees who did not. The per-employee award for the non-knife users is approximately 75% of that of the other class, since the knife users required extra safety equipment and thus spent more time donning and doffing. The settlement provides compensation for periods of unpaid work that defendants frequently argue are “de minimis” — in this case, the average employee worked just a few minutes a day off-the-clock. As such, Maxwell exemplifies an instance where the workers’ rights can only be practically vindicated through the mechanism of a collective or class action.