UConn Law professors take part in future of class action suits

UConn Law professors Sachin Pandya and Alexandra Lahav recently filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs for the Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo case. (Capital Area Food Bank of Texas/Flickr)

UConn Law professors Sachin Pandya and Alexandra Lahav recently filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs for the Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo case.

Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo is a class action suit filed on behalf of the Tyson Food workers in a factory located in Iowa. The workers filed due to a violation to rights guaranteed by the Fair Labor Standards Act on overtime claims not being fulfilled.

This is significant because this would mean that individuals would be at a disadvantage while filing against large corporations before the court.

The initial ruling in the Iowa District Court, however, ruled in favor of the plaintiff for $5.8 M for wages due. This left Tyson to appeal to the US Supreme Court (USSC) on the grounds that an error was made by the district court in their allowance of the filing of this class action suit. According to Tyson, the plaintiffs did not show that all participants incurred injury and their claims were made on the basis of statistics, which should not have been permitted. 

“One of the issues raised by Tyson foods is under Article Three in the US Constitution that limits the kinds of disputes the federal court can hear in a way that is different often from the state,” Pandya said. “Their argument questions the limited scope of judicial power to ‘cases and controversies.’ This would require the Supreme Court to read the case in the way Tyson foods wants it read.”

If this action is ruled in favor of Tyson Foods, the plaintiffs bringing forward the case as a class action suit would each have to prove the merits of their claim through individual incidences of pay that was not received. The case could determine whether or not class action suits in the courts will be allowed in the future.

“Without the presence of class actions suits in our legal system,” Pandya said, “individual people would have to file claims separately against Tyson Foods. This makes the system less efficient and makes it more difficult for people to bring their claims in front of the district court.”

Professors from various institutions and consumer protection agencies have filed amicus briefs in support of the workers’ rights to file class action lawsuits, but there has also been an equal presence of support for Tyson Food, Inc. as well. 

The supporters of Tyson Food Inc. include the Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Dow Chemical Company and the National Association of Manufacturers, who would all gain from the elimination of class action suits in the courts.

“The outcome of this case does not only impact those who are filing a suit for compensation of overtime work, but impacts the future for anybody who wishes to bring class actions suits forward in the future, including cases about civil rights, consumer protection and fraud,” Pandya said.


Elizabeth Charash is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at elizabeth.charash@uconn.edu.