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Tyson Wants Virus Suit Against Safety Officials in Federal Court

Aug. 31, 2020, 7:07 PM

Tyson Foods wants a federal court in Texas to take on a gross negligence and willful misconduct case filed by 11 meat processing plant employees—plus the estate of one dead worker—against company officials accused of failing to provide a work environment safe from the coronavirus.

In its Aug. 28 notice of removal to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, the company claims federal court is the proper place for the state court lawsuit filed by Arnold & Itkin LLP in Houston.

The employees allege that three Tyson Foods safety officials forced workers to continue showing up to the plant without proper personal protective equipment despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott‘s April 2 stay-at-home order. At least 18 Tyson workers nationwide have died since the onset of the pandemic, according to their complaint.

Tyson chose not to provide its employees with workers compensation insurance, instead implementing a program called “WISP or Workplace Injury Settlement Program wherein Tyson pressures employees to sign releases before providing injury benefits,” according to the complaint. “In many cases, Tyson then pays limited, if any benefits, once its employees have signed away their right to sue.”

Arguing in support of removing the case to federal court, Tyson cites President Donald Trump‘s April 28 executive order compelling meatpackers to remain open, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance on worker safety during the pandemic.

Shortly after that presidential order was issued, the U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA announced that they were unlikely to cite plants for health violations if those employers try in “good faith” to follow guidance from OSHA and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zachary T. Mayer of Mayer LLP in Dallas represents Tyson Foods. He wasn’t immediately available for comment. A representative from the company didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The original complaint was filed June 11 in Shelby County District Court in Texas, and amended to add the 10 employees and the estate of the deceased worker.

The case is Glenn et al v. Tyson Foods, Inc. et al, E.D. Tex., No. 9:20-cv-00184, 8/28/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Fatima Hussein in Washington at fhussein@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com

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