Recently, in a 6-2 opinion, the Supreme Court sided with thousands of workers at a Tyson Foods Iowa Park processing plant in order to recover overtime pay. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that the plaintiffs were entitled to rely on statistics to prove their case.
The Tyson workers were seeking to be paid for the time that they spent putting on and taking off protective gear, in addition to other work –related functions. Because Tyson did not keep records of these functions, the workers were allowed to prove their damages based on expert witness’s statistical inferences from hundreds of videotaped observations of how long it took the workers to get ready. Tyson objected claiming the workers did not have enough in common to pursue their claims together and that there were “more than 400 jobs, which required widely differing amounts of time to perform their donning, doffing and washing tasks.” Mr. David C. Frederick, attorney for the workers, argued that “the reason averaging works is because the workers were rotating among different assignments.” The tasks weren’t all that different and they used the same basic kinds of gear. He further stated, “Had they put the punch clock right outside the locker room so that workers, as soon as they went in the locker room and punched in, this problem would have been eliminated.”
Justice Kennedy cited a 1946 precedent, Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Potter. “Where the employer’s records are inaccurate or inadequate and the employee cannot offer convincing substitutes”, it is enough for workers to rely on “sufficient evidence to show the amount and extent of that work as a matter of just and reasonable inference.”
Statistical proof was sufficient in this case.