Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo

Facts of the Case

Respondents, Bouaphakeo et al., employees of petitioner Tyson Foods, worked in the kill, cut, and retrim departments of a pork processing plant in Iowa. Bouaphakeo et al.’s work required them to wear protective gear, but the exact composition of the gear depended on the tasks a worker performed on a given day. Tyson Foods, Inc. compensated some, but not all, employees for this donning and doffing, and did not record the time each employee spent on those activities. Bouaphakeo et al. filed suit, alleging that the donning and doffing were integral and indispensable to their hazardous work and that petitioner’s policy not to pay for those activities denied them overtime compensation required by the

Question

May differences among plaintiff class members be ignored for the purpose of class certification when liability and damages will be calculated based on statistical techniques that presume all class members are identical to an average?May a class action be certified and maintained when the class contains members who were not injured and therefore have no legal right to damages?

CONCLUSION

Despite differences among class members, the class action was based under one question and therefore the class was properly certified. Additionally, although some class members who had not been injured would have no right to damages, the award had not yet been dispersed, so the district court can review the disbursement on remand. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the 6-2 majority, which held that the class members were joined under one common question, and that satisfies the requirements for a class action suit despite differences among the members. The case was remanded for the lower court to consider of the proper disbursement of the award.In his concurring opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. wrote that the district court would be unable to appropriately distribute the $2.9 million award among the class members. The jury did not allocate the direct calculation of damages to unpaid overtime compensation and each plaintiff spent different amounts of time doffing and donning the protective clothing, so it would be extremely difficult to determine which plaintiffs are excluded from the award for lack of damages and the amount of the damages the other plaintiffs should receive. Justice Samuel A. Alito joined in the part of the concurrence that addressed the problems of allocating damages.Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent in which he argued that the district court erred in certifying the class action because the amount of time individual plaintiffs spent dealing with the protective clothing varied significantly. Some plaintiffs may not have been pushed over 40 hours a week and would not be owed damages. The awarded $2.9 million will be difficult to distribute among the 3344-members of the class action suit, and the district court should not have certified the class action suit. Justice Alito joined in the dissent.

Case Information

  • Citation: 577 US _ (2016)
  • Granted: Jun 8, 2015
  • Argued: Nov 10, 2015
  • Decided Mar 22, 2016