It is amazing to me that employers still do not understand that there exists an inviolate obligation on their parts to pay proper overtime. It is not proper for an employer to believe that if it treats its employees “well,” or if its business is “green” and it tries to do the right thing by the environment, this means that it cannot pay overtime. A recent example of this trend is a Georgia slaughterhouse that has now settled a case (for $100,000 in wages) to resolve allegations from workers who claimed they were shorted on overtime pay. The case is entitled Travis Taylor, Terry Barrows, and Layton Ferrell Duke v. White Oak Pastures, Inc. and was filed in federal court in the Middle District of Georgia.
A class of thirty-four (34) workers will receive payments, which will range between $191-16,000. Their payouts depend on how long they worked at the employer, which is typical for class action settlements, which often come down to the parties agreeing on a formula for payouts, rather than an individualized study of each employee’s situation. The lawyers for the class will receive $127,500 in fees, more than their clients will receive in wages. As is typical in these cases (and crucial for the employer), the Company does not have to admit it violated any law.
One collective action was filed in September 2015 and another in 2020. The settlement includes workers in both lawsuits. The workers were assigned to the red meat abattoir, on the kill floor. The allegation was that they were supposed to work from 7AM-6PM, with one hour for lunch, but they were nevertheless compelled to work until all of the cows were slaughtered.
The Judge had rejected an earlier settlement. He found that the employees were being asked to release claims other than those dealing with overtime and the lawsuit, such as age discrimination claims, etc. The parties then revisited the Releases and drafted one focused more sharply on just the overtime allegations. The Judge found that more to his liking, stating that the “scope of this proposed release provision is reasonable.”
The Company characterized its business as a “fair, sustainable and humane” farm. The Company also was proud that it was a so-called zero-waste operation where even the bones of the cows were used to make bone-meal fertilizers for organic fields. Both of these are commendable, but what would be even more commendable is if the Company paid proper overtime.
Now, that is something that is fair and sustainable…