Case Number: No. 8:08-cv-00504

Practice Area: Employment Law & Unpaid Wages

Case Status: Settled

Settlement Amount: $275,000 plus court-awarded attorneys' fees and costs

Court: United States District Court for the District of Nebraska

Berger Montague served as co-lead counsel and obtained a settlement for the plaintiffs and 247 opt-in plaintiffs of the defendant, Farmland Foods, Inc., in this case alleging unpaid wages and overtime compensation for meatpacking workers. Led by Shanon J. Carson of Berger Montague, the plaintiffs alleged that at Farmland Foods, Inc.’s hog processing facility in Crete, Nebraska, the hourly production workers were not paid for their time spent donning and doffing their uniforms, earplugs, hard hats, hairnets, boots, mesh gloves, aprons, arm guards, belly guards, plastic sleeves, scabbards, and knives, before and after every shift. The case was litigated in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska and captioned Morales v. Farmland Foods, Inc., No. 8:08-cv-504 (D. Neb.).

The plaintiffs alleged that Farmland Foods violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq. (“FLSA”) by failing to pay its non-exempt, hourly production employees for their “off-the-clock” work and corresponding wages and overtime compensation owed to them. The alleged uncompensated time included the time that the employees spent donning and doffing their personal protective clothing and equipment (“PPE”), obtaining and sanitizing their PPE, obtaining tools, equipment and supplies necessary for the performance of their work, sharpening tools, and walking and waiting to perform their work activities. All of this work was integral and indispensable to the plaintiffs’ work duties and therefore compensable under the FLSA.

The settlement reached by the plaintiffs did not include attorneys’ fees and costs, as Farmland Foods, Inc. made the decision to litigate that issue separately and oppose plaintiffs’ counsel’s fees. That turned out to be an unwise decision. As a prevailing party in the litigation, Berger Montague and its co-counsel filed a separate motion for their attorneys’ fees and costs to be paid by Farmland Foods, Inc. under the fee-shifting provisions of the FLSA. During the litigation, Farmland Foods, Inc. had employed a “win at all costs” scorched earth defense. It would be an understatement to say that the case was heavily litigated. Farmland Foods, Inc. filed almost every conceivable motion in an effort to evade liability. Indeed, only after the court denied Defendant’s ten motions for partial summary judgment or summary judgment, one motion for interlocutory appeal, and one motion to decertify the class, did Farmland Foods, Inc. finally agree to settle the case.

Given the excellent results obtained by Berger Montague and its co-counsel in the face of extreme adversity, the federal court determined that plaintiffs’ counsel were entitled to a fully compensatory fee. A copy of the court’s fee decision awarding plaintiffs’ counsel over $2 million in attorneys’ fees plus an additional $275,416 in costs and expenses is available here, and serves as a cautionary reminder for defendants who choose to employ the same tactics that were employed by Farmland Foods, Inc.

From U.S. District Court Judge Joseph F. Bataillon of the District of Nebraska:

[P]laintiffs’ counsel succeeded in vindicating important rights. … The court is familiar with “donning and doffing” cases and based on the court’s experience, defendant meat packing companies’ litigation conduct generally reflects “what can only be described as a deeply-entrenched resistance to changing their compensation practices to comply with the requirements of FLSA.” (citation omitted). Plaintiffs’ counsel perform a recognized public service in prosecuting these actions as a ‘private Attorney General’ to protect the rights of underrepresented workers.

The plaintiffs have demonstrated that counsel’s services have benefitted the class. … The fundamental policies of the FLSA were vindicated and the rights of the workers were protected.

Regarding the work of Berger Montague and its co-counsel in Morales v. Farmland Foods, Inc., No. 8:08-cv-504, 2013 WL 1704722 (D. Neb. Apr. 18, 2013).

If you have experienced unpaid wages, unpaid overtime compensation, unreimbursed business expenses, or other wage and hour violations under federal or state laws by your employer, please contact Berger Montague. Our award-winning employment lawyers are available to speak with you free of charge.

About Berger Montague

Berger Montague is a national law firm focusing on complex civil litigation in federal and state courts throughout the United States. For over half a century, Berger Montague has played lead roles in consequential, precedent-setting cases and has recovered over $50 billion for its clients and the classes they have represented. Berger Montague is headquartered in Philadelphia and has offices in Chicago, Minneapolis, San Diego, San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington, D.C.

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