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New U.S. Supreme Court Class Action Decision

March 24, 2016

On March 22, 2016, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that employees can potentially rely on admissible statistical sampling data to establish classwide liability in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, No. 14-1146 (affirming a $5.8 million judgment). The case involved an FLSA collective action and state wage law class action based on the same claim of unpaid donning and doffing time. The Court did not differentiate between the two actions because the parties stipulated that the FLSA’s certification standards were met if the state action’s class was properly certified under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and because violating the FLSA was all that was required under the state wage law.

The Court ruled otherwise admissible statistical sampling data can be used to meet class certification requirements if each class member could have relied on the sample to establish liability if he or she had brought an individual action. The Court distinguished Tyson Foods from the Court’s previous ruling denying the use of sampling data in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011) (Title VII sex discrimination class action) because the class members in Wal-Mart were not similarly-situated (different facility, different managers, no common policy) unlike in the current case (same facility, similar work, and paid under the same policy). With regard to the fact the putative class members work required them to wear varying amounts of protective gear depending on the tasks assigned on a given day, the Court found the variance in the doffing and donning time was roughly consistent with a 1946 case in which sampling data was allowed (Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680 (1946)). Furthermore, the Court found the employer failed to challenge the plaintiffs’ experts’ methodology in creating the statistical sampling data, thus leaving the determination of the data’s persuasiveness as to actual hours worked for the jury to decide.

The only issue left unanswered by the Court was what to do about “no injury” class members. Since the $5.8 million award ($2.9 million in unpaid wages and another $2.9 million in liquidated damages) has not been disbursed yet, the Court held the issue was not properly before the Court at this time. Therefore, this is a case to still keep an eye on.

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