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Tyson Foods wins reversal of damages in Nebraska wage lawsuits

Tyson Foods Inc, one of the world's largest meat processors, on Wednesday won the reversal of nearly $24 million of damage awards in two class action lawsuits claiming it cheated thousands of hourly workers in two Nebraska plants out of wages.

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Tyson Foods Inc , one of the world's largest meat processors, on Wednesday won the reversal of nearly $24 million of damage awards in two class action lawsuits claiming it cheated thousands of hourly workers in two Nebraska plants out of wages. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overturned an $18.77 million award to workers at a Madison,Nebraska pork processing plant after a non-jury trial.

It also threw out a $4.96 million award concerning a Dakota City, Nebraska beef processing plant, following a jury trial. Two-thirds of that sum went to workers and the rest to the state.

Workers accused Tyson of failing to pay them properly for "K-code time," representing pre- and post-shift activities such as putting on and taking off required clothing; cleaning and maintaining equipment; and walking to and from the production line, lockers and wash stations.

Writing for a three-judge appeals court panel, Circuit Judge Steven Colloton found insufficient evidence of an agreement for Tyson to pay wages sought by the Madison workers, and no evidence of such an agreement for theDakota City workers.

He said the district court misinterpreted the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act, which lets workers sue for unpaid wages. As a result, Colloton said the Tyson workers' claims failed as a matter of law.

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A lawyer for workers in both lawsuits did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the Springdale, Arkansas-based company is pleased with the decisions.

"We continue to believe we're paying our people appropriately and, like other businesses, have strived to comply with federal wage and hour laws that are not precise in describing what activities should be compensated," he said.

Tyson is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court a $5.8 million award in a wage dispute at a Storm Lake, Iowa pork processing plant. That case could give the nine justices a chance to curb class actions. A decision is expected by next June.

The cases are Gomez et al v. Tyson Foods Inc, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 13-3500; and Acosta et al v.Tyson Foods Inc in the same court, No. 14-1582. 

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