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07/25/22 | Dept. of Justice Sues Poultry Companies in Wage-Fixing Lawsuit

In a bolstering of Hagens Berman’s existing poultry wage-fixing class action, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a consent decree and proposed conditional civil settlement for the same behavior with Cargill, Sanderson Farms Inc. and Wayne Farms LLC, among other individuals.

The DOJ’s announcement details a restitution clause that orders these companies to provide payment – either through an approved settlement in the class action litigation brought by Hagens Berman or, only in the alternative, directly to the DOJ. This will ensure these companies are held to account for the damages caused by the anticompetitive conduct that harmed workers. The settlement also strengthens the class action’s likelihood of certification.

In a statement issued by the DOJ, Antitrust Division Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Doha Mekki said, "Through a brazen scheme to exchange wage and benefit information, these poultry processors stifled competition and harmed a generation of plant workers who face demanding and sometimes dangerous conditions to earn a living. Today's action puts companies and individuals on notice: The Antitrust Division will use all of its available legal authorities to address anticompetitive conduct that harms consumers, workers, farmers and other American producers."

Case Status
Active
Position
Interim Co-Lead Counsel
Court
U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland
Case Number
1:19-cv-02521-ELH
Defendant(S)
Perdue Farms Inc.
Tyson Foods Inc.
The Hillshire Brands Company
Keystone Foods LLC
Equity Group (Eufaula, Georgia, Kentucky Divisions) LLC
Pilgrim's Pride Corporation
Sanderson Farms Inc.
Koch Foods Inc.
JCG Foods (of Alabama and Georgia) LLC
Wayne Farms LLC
WFSP Foods LLC
Montaire Farms Inc.
Peco Foods Inc.
Simmons Foods Inc.
& many others
File Date

Hagens Berman has filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit against Perdue, Tyson, Hillshire Farms and many other of the nation's largest poultry processing companies for what we believe has been a years-long wage-fixing agreement, causing employees to receive far less for their work than they are legally owed.

AFFECTED POULTRY INDUSTRY EMPLOYERS

This class-action lawsuit pertains to many chicken processing companies, and our firm is actively seeking to hear from those who have been employed, or are currently employees, at one of the following poultry processors:

  • Perdue
  • Tyson
  • The Hillshire Brands Company
  • Keystone Foods LLC
  • Equity Group (Eufaula, Georgia, Kentucky Divisions) LLC
  • Pilgrim's Pride
  • Sanderson Farms
  • Koch Foods
  • JCG Foods
  • Wayne Farms LLC
  • Montaire Farms
  • Peco Foods
  • Simmons Foods
  • Fieldale Farms
  • George's
  • Ozark Mountain Poultry
  • House of Raeford O.K. Foods
  • Harrison Poultry
  • Mar-Jac Poultry
  • Amick Farms
  • Case Foods
  • Allen Harim Foods

POULTRY PROCESSING WAGE-FIXING EXPLAINED

For more than a decade, many poultry processing companies have conspired and combined to fix and depress the compensation paid to non-supervisory production and maintenance employees at chicken processing plants in violation of federal law. 

Together the companies named in this lawsuit control more than 90 percent of the chicken sold in the United States, and own and operate approximately 200 chicken processing plants in the continental United States. These processors employ hundreds of thousands of individuals who turn live chickens into the food that many Americans eat.

We believe that these companies have collectively suppressed wage rates and employment benefits based on a calculated system, stifling competition across similar places of employment and positions within the chicken processing industry, all to increase overall profits. "Defendants have engaged in this unlawful conspiracy to maximize their profits by reducing labor costs, which have comprised a substantial share of each Defendant Processor’s total operating costs."

THREE METHODS OF WAGE AND BENEFITS SUPPRESSION

  • First, senior executives held recurring off-the-books meetings where they exchanged information about, discussed, agreed upon and ultimately fixed the wages and benefits of Class Members at artificially depressed levels.
  • Second, processors frequently exchanged detailed, current and non-public wage and benefits information through surveys conducted by Agri Stats and Webber Meng Sahl and Company Inc. d/b/a WMS & Company Inc. The Agri Stats reports provided monthly effective hourly wage rates regarding categories of chicken processing plant workers from each processor's plants. WMS conducted a detailed annual survey of the hourly wages and benefits paid by each processor. Defendants used the data to fix and depress workers' compensation and ensure and confirm that no conspirator deviated from the conspiracy.
  • Third, managers at affected chicken processing plants engaged in bilateral and regional exchanges of wage and benefits information. Those managers frequently reached out directly to their counterparts at competitors’ chicken processing plants to request and exchange wage and benefits data, including data regarding plans for future wages and benefits. Those plant-to-plant exchanges of wage and benefits information were conducted through various mediums, including telephone calls and surveys disseminated through electronic listservs.

YOUR RIGHTS AS AN EMPLOYEE

Hagens Berman believes that employees at hundreds of chicken processing plants have been cheated in wages and benefits, and we intend to fight to recover their losses. When employers cooperate to stifle employee pay for the sake of their profits, workers always lose, and we’re here to challenge this illegal wage-fixing. Those affected include employees who have occupied various positions along processing lines, from hanging live chickens to slaughtering the birds to slicing meat from their bones to repairing the processing machines.

Under federal antitrust law, the Sherman Act, your wages as an employee are protected under law that prohibits agreements that stifle competition and lead to (in this case) lower wages within a single industry or area of work.

TOP EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS AND ANTITRUST FIRM

Hagens Berman is one of the most successful employment and antitrust litigation law firms in the U.S. and has achieved more than $320 billion in settlements for consumers in lawsuits against big banks, technology corporations, automakers and others. Hagens Berman has achieved many monumental settlements in antitrust suits, including one against Apple and various publishing companies in 2016 that settled for a total $560 million. Your claim will be handled by attorneys experienced in employment and antitrust law.

NO COST TO YOU

There is no cost or fee whatsoever involved in joining this investigation. In the event Hagens Berman or any other firm obtains a settlement that provides benefits to class members, the court will decide a reasonable fee to be awarded to the class' legal team. In no case will any class member ever be asked to pay any out-of-pocket sum.

Case Timeline
Title
Judge Allows Counts to Continue
Description

In an opinion issued by the court, antitrust claims have been upheld against various key players in the poultry processing industry, allowing the case for employees to continue. Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher stated, “The secretive nature of the meetings, the lack of publicly available information, and the apparent investigation Plaintiffs’ counsel undertook to uncover the existence of the meetings suggests that they exercised due diligence to investigate the alleged collusion.”

Date
Title
$29M Settlement with Pilgrim’s
Description

Hagens Berman is pleased to announce a $29M settlement with Pilgrim’s defendants. This settlement provides significant financial recovery to employees of poultry processing plants and requires Pilgrim’s to cooperate in the plaintiffs’ case against remaining defendants. Hagens Berman and the class representatives will continue to litigate against other defendants and intend to recover further funds.

Date
Title
Preliminary Approval of Settlement with Simmons Foods
Description

On Mar. 28, 2022, Judge Gallagher of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted preliminary approval for a settlement of $12 million with defendants Simmons Foods. This will provide financial recovery to employees of their poultry processing plants and requires Simmons Foods to cooperate in the plaintiffs’ case against the remaining defendants. This marks the fifth settlement for this poultry wage-fixing case, bringing the total amount of funds recovered for the class to $49.8 million. Four other settlements with defendants were preliminarily approved by the court, Pilgrim’s for $29 million, George’s for $5.8 million, Peco for $3 million and WMS for cooperation in the case against the remaining defendants. Hagens Berman will continue to litigate against the remaining defendants and intend to recover further funds for class members.

Date
Title
Case Update: Motions to Dismiss Denied
Description

Judge Gallagher denied defendants’ five motions to dismiss, marking the third time plaintiffs’ claims have withstood attempts to dismiss from Tyson and other major food conglomerates defending the lawsuit. The court’s denial greenlights the claims of salaried and hourly workers who were employed by the defendants in poultry processing plants, hatcheries and feed mills between 2000 and 2021.

The amended complaint (PDF) expands the scope of the proposed class action, broadening the class period to January 2000 to July 2021. The complaint also expands the class definition to include workers at hatcheries and feed mills, in addition to those who worked at the poultry processing plants. The case is pending in Maryland, but those who worked for a poultry processor defendant in any state may be class members. Discovery is ongoing. 

Hagens Berman will fight to hold wage fixers accountable, whenever industries collude in violation of the antitrust statutes. If you have information related to wage fixing or other antitrust misconduct, email us.

Read the order (PDF) »

Date

CASE TIMELINE

Case Update: Motions to Dismiss Denied

Judge Gallagher denied defendants’ five motions to dismiss, marking the third time plaintiffs’ claims have withstood attempts to dismiss from Tyson and other major food conglomerates defending the lawsuit. The court’s denial greenlights the claims of salaried and hourly workers who were employed by the defendants in poultry processing plants, hatcheries and feed mills between 2000 and 2021.

The amended complaint (PDF) expands the scope of the proposed class action, broadening the class period to January 2000 to July 2021. The complaint also expands the class definition to include workers at hatcheries and feed mills, in addition to those who worked at the poultry processing plants. The case is pending in Maryland, but those who worked for a poultry processor defendant in any state may be class members. Discovery is ongoing. 

Hagens Berman will fight to hold wage fixers accountable, whenever industries collude in violation of the antitrust statutes. If you have information related to wage fixing or other antitrust misconduct, email us.

Read the order (PDF) »

Preliminary Approval of Settlement with Simmons Foods

On Mar. 28, 2022, Judge Gallagher of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted preliminary approval for a settlement of $12 million with defendants Simmons Foods. This will provide financial recovery to employees of their poultry processing plants and requires Simmons Foods to cooperate in the plaintiffs’ case against the remaining defendants. This marks the fifth settlement for this poultry wage-fixing case, bringing the total amount of funds recovered for the class to $49.8 million. Four other settlements with defendants were preliminarily approved by the court, Pilgrim’s for $29 million, George’s for $5.8 million, Peco for $3 million and WMS for cooperation in the case against the remaining defendants. Hagens Berman will continue to litigate against the remaining defendants and intend to recover further funds for class members.

$29M Settlement with Pilgrim’s

Hagens Berman is pleased to announce a $29M settlement with Pilgrim’s defendants. This settlement provides significant financial recovery to employees of poultry processing plants and requires Pilgrim’s to cooperate in the plaintiffs’ case against remaining defendants. Hagens Berman and the class representatives will continue to litigate against other defendants and intend to recover further funds.

Judge Allows Counts to Continue

In an opinion issued by the court, antitrust claims have been upheld against various key players in the poultry processing industry, allowing the case for employees to continue. Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher stated, “The secretive nature of the meetings, the lack of publicly available information, and the apparent investigation Plaintiffs’ counsel undertook to uncover the existence of the meetings suggests that they exercised due diligence to investigate the alleged collusion.”

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