September 28, 2023
A Colorado federal judge has denied bids by major meat producers to toss a putative class action accusing them of illegally coordinating to keep wages in the red meat industry low.
The decision Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Philip A. Brimmer rejected a joint dismissal motion by a group of meat companies that included JBS USA Food Co., Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc., along with individual motions to dismiss by many of the same companies.
Meat plant workers sued nearly a dozen meat processors in November, alleging they shared compensation studies and data and worked together to ensure uniform pay policies across the industry in violation of federal antitrust laws.
In one of his orders Wednesday, Judge Brimmer concluded that the meat plant workers had plausibly alleged violations of the Sherman Act by meat processors, noting that they claimed processors capped wage increases in parallel with competitors. Beyond that, Judge Brimmer ruled that by alleging the companies exchanged information, communicating with high-level employees, it was enough to make their allegations plausible.
Judge Brimmer rejected arguments from meat companies that the workers hadn’t plausibly asserted there were anti-competitive effects, finding that “allegations of specific wage suppression provide sufficient support at the pleading stage for plaintiffs’ broader claims of industry-wide wage suppression.”
The judge also found that in regards to Seaboard Foods LLC and Triumph Foods LLC, the motion was moot as they’ve already asked for approval of a settlement. Purdue has also settled claims with workers, including in a similar suit in Maryland.
In another order Wednesday, Judge Brimmer similarly rejected various arguments for why individual companies, such as Smithfield Foods and Hormel, should be able to get out of the case, finding workers’ allegations were detailed enough to allege they were part of the conspiracy to keep wages down.
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The workers are represented by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC, Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP and Berger Montague PC.