Magistrate Judge Concludes that Smithfield Wage and Hour Collective Action Should Proceed

In this case, plaintiffs are bringing collective action claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) based on the under-payment of wages and overtime at Smithfield Packing’s Tar Heel, North Carolina meat processing facility.  Magistrate Judge Gates issued an opinion last week recommending that defendant’s motion to decertify the FLSA collective action be denied.  If his recommendation is approved by the district judge, the case will proceed to trial as a collective action.  The plaintiffs are represented by several lawyers, including Ann Groninger.

Continue for details from the opinion:

In their third amended complaint, plaintiffs allege that defendant failed to compensate them for time spent engaged in donning and doffing protective equipment (including, for purposes of this motion, protective clothing) and related activities (collectively “donning and doffing activites”). The specific activities for which they allege they were not compensated include: (1) obtaining their required protective equipment from designated areas in the plant; (2) walking to and from the work station, processing line, or both; (3) donning and doffing protective items and hygiene-related equipment before their shift, during their shift, and after their scheduled shift ends; (4) waiting for a shift to begin or for relief to arrive; (5) washing and cleaning tools and other equipment; and (6) other pre- and post-shift activities required by defendant. Plaintiffs seek unpaid back wages, unpaid benefits, liquidated damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief.

The FLSA allows for the commencement of an action for unpaid minimum wages and overtime pay against an employer by “any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated.” … In order to determine if the proposed class is similarly situated at this stage of the proceeding, courts must consider: (1) the factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs; (2) whether defendant has presented individualized defenses; and (3) fairness and procedural issues presented.  “Variations in damages . . . do not warrant decertification.”

To be sure, trial of a collective action of this type and magnitude is no small undertaking. But other courts have managed similar litigation involving donning and doffing in the meat and poultry processing industry, and objections on this basis are accordingly unfounded. … For these reasons, a collective action would be a fair and efficient means of resolving plaintiffs’ claims, and this third and final factor therefore favors certification. Because he other two factors do as well, defendant’s motion to decertify the conditionally certified class should be denied.