Cargill settles wage and hour class action

Posted on: August 15th, 2011 by Steve Larson
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Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. settled a collective action Tuesday in Nebraska brought by current and former plant workers who accused the company of failing to pay them for time spent performing tasks off the production line.

U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf granted the parties’ joint motion for approval of the settlement, and dismissed the consolidated Fair Labor Standards Act action pursuant to the terms of the deal.

“The agreement constitutes a fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute, consistent with the principles of the FLSA, by all settlement participants who affirmatively elect to participate in the settlement, of all claims asserted or that could have been asserted in this consolidated action, including claims under the FLSA and applicable state laws, prior to this date,” Judge Kopf said in an order.

Under the deal, Cargill will pay the plaintiffs $826,700 to cover attorneys’ fees and costs, and shell out back-pay to three categories of roughly 1,345 current and former employees who worked at a Cargill plant in Schuyler, Nebraska between April 23, 2006 and February 28, 2008.

The plaintiffs had opted into two consolidated cases, which alleged that Cargill failed to pay workers for time spent donning and doffing protective gear, and related activities.

On April 12, Judge Kopf granted Cargill partial summary on the plaintiffs’ claim for wages stemming from time spent putting on and removing protective equipment and gear, and also dismissed their state law claims.

But Judge Kopf denied Cargill’s bid for summary judgment on claims seeking additional compensation for preshift walking and waiting time.

Both sides agreed to the settlement because they recognized the expense, difficulty and inherent uncertainty in continuing to push the litigation through trial and subsequent appeals, said their July 8 joint motion for approval of the deal.

Under the settlement, participants in the so-called maximum equipment group, whose jobs included wearing one or more items like mesh body suits, mesh aprons, mesh leggings or back mesh, will get $6 per week for every full week they worked in a covered job during the applicable time period.

Workers in the minimum equipment group, who wore one or more items such as mesh gloves, shin guards or plastic arm guards, are in line to receive $4 per week.

The standard equipment group will get a pro rata share of any unclaimed funds left over after the first two groups are paid. Unclaimed funds means the difference between the maximum potential distribution to eligible members of the first two groups and the actual amount paid out to those groups, plus an extra $20,000 from the defendant.

The named plaintiffs are also due to collect $2,000 service awards for the time and effort they put into pursuing the cases, according to court papers.

The cases are Juan Martinez v. Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., case number 4:09-cv-03079, and Dale Haferland et al. v. Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., case number 8:09-cv-00247, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.