Law360: Chicken Cos. To Pay Combined $85M In Wage Conspiracy Suit

Sep 12, 2022

By Hailey Konnath

Law360 (September 12, 2022, 8:11 PM EDT) -- Cargill Meat Solutions, Sanderson Farms and Wayne Farms will pay a combined total of $84.8 million to settle allegations the poultry companies illegally conspired to keep their wages low, according to a proposed agreement filed in Maryland federal court.

Specifically, Cargill will pay $15 million, Sanderson will pay $38.3 million and Wayne will pay $31.5 million to settlement classes of workers. Under the deals, the companies have also agreed to cooperate with the workers in their case against the remaining defendant companies in the litigation, the workers said in a motion for preliminary approval filed Friday.

"These settlements were reached after hard-fought, arm's-lengths negotiation with sophisticated counsel representing all parties," they said.

The workers had accused the poultry processors of holding clandestine meetings and sharing information in an effort to keep wages low for hundreds of thousands of workers at their facilities. The companies named in the 2019 suit own and run roughly 200 poultry plants in the U.S., according to the complaint.

The poultry workers have already settled with several other companies, and, to date, they've recovered a total of $134.6 million, according to Friday's filing.

They asked the court to certify a trio of settlement classes of individuals who've worked at their facilities in certain positions during the last 20 years. They also requested that named plaintiffs Judy Jien, Kieo Jibidi, Elaisa Clement, Glenda Robinson, Emily Earnest and Kevin West be appointed settlement class representatives while their attorneys at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC be appointed settlement class counsel.

A number of companies in the litigation, including Sanderson, had argued that because the named plaintiffs were hourly chicken processing workers, they lacked standing to sue over the alleged conspiracy's impact on salaried and turkey processing jobs.

But U.S. District Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher rejected that argument in March 2021, shooting down three separate requests to cut loose Jennie-O Turkey Store Inc., Mountaire Farms Inc. and Sanderson.

In July of that year, Pilgrim's Pride Corp. reached a $29 million settlement with the workers. As part of that deal, Pilgrim's Pride also agreed to cooperate with them against the remaining defendants in the suit.

The workers have also settled with Simmons Foods Inc., Peco Foods Inc. and Webber Meng Sahl & Co., according to Friday's motion.

Daniel Sullivan, a Cargill spokesperson, told Law360 on Monday that the settlement "is not an admission of guilt and Cargill denies any wrongdoing."

"Nonetheless, we are pleased to put the cost and distraction of litigation behind us," Sullivan said.

Sanderson and Wayne and counsel for the workers didn't immediately respond to requests for comment late Monday.

The workers are represented by Steve W. Berman, Shana E. Scarlett, Rio S. Pierce, Breanna Van Engelen and Abigail D. Pershing of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, Benjamin D. Brown, Brent W. Johnson, Daniel Silverman and Alison S. Deich of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, and George F. Farah, Rebecca P. Chang, Matthew K. Handley and Stephen Pearson of Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC.

Cargill is represented by Julie E. McEvoy and Christopher N. Thatch of Jones Day, and Faris Rashid and Davida S. McGhee of Greene Espel PLLP.

Sanderson is represented by Daniel E. Laytin, Christa C. Cottrell and Zachary Holmstead of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and Joseph W. Hovermill and Alexander P. Creticos of Miles & Stockbridge PC.

Wayne is represented by Christopher E. Ondeck and Stephen R. Chuk of Proskauer Rose LLP.

The case is Jien et al. v. Perdue Farms Inc. et al., case number 1:19-cv-02521, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

We are lawyers who seek to improve the world. We fight for: workers deprived of wages, consumers deceived about products, tenants denied access to housing, farmers mistreated by processors, parents deprived of adequate parental leave, investors who were defrauded, small businesses harmed by antitrust violations, persons with disabilities denied access, whistleblowers who uncover fraud, and women and communities of color subject to discrimination.

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