Over the past few months, two potential class action lawsuits have been filed in South Carolina and Georgia by former poultry growers for Amick Farms and Perdue Farms, claiming that growers are not independent contractors as stated in their contracts but employees. In the lawsuits, the former growers claim that both companies miscategorized growers and failed to pay growers a minimum wage and overtime. The cases are Diaz v. Amick Farms, LLC, No. 5:22-CV-01246, and Parker v. Perdue Farms, Inc., No. 5:22-cv-00268-TES.
Class action lawsuits allow the judicial system to manage lawsuits that could potentially be unmanageable. Cases would become unwieldy if each potential class member were to bring a lawsuit. In class actions, the class members must share common questions of law or fact, with proposed claims or defenses typical for each member. At the same time, class actions require that the size of the potential class makes it impractical for all the members to join in and that the class representatives can adequately protect the interests of the entire class.
In both lawsuits, the former growers claim that the poultry companies miscategorized the growers as independent contractors and that growers should be treated as employees. As employees, the growers are entitled to be paid the minimum wage required under federal law. At the same time, one of the lawsuits argues that the growers are entitled to overtime pay for all work over 40 hours per week. The growers claim that the tournament system used to compensate growers did not provide a wage above the minimum wage for hours worked by the growers. Additional claims were filed, but for now, these are the ones we are focusing on.
It will be interesting to watch if these lawsuits are certified as a class action lawsuit and which federal district court will be given jurisdiction over the class action suit. All this could happen in 2023, and poultry growers should continue to keep an eye on this litigation.
Author: Paul Goeringer
Senior Faculty Specialist