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Court Certifies Mountaire Chicken Processing Workers' Class Action

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A federal court in North Carolina has certified an action under both federal and state wage and hour laws against Mountaire Farms, Inc. (“Mountaire”), the state’s largest chicken processing company. Pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the lawsuit asserts that Mountaire violates the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (“NCWHA”).

The lawsuit, entitled Romero, et al. v. Mountaire Farms, Inc. (7:09-cv-00190), asserts that Mountaire violates FLSA and NCWHA regulations by requiring employees to arrive at work before their “line” time begins to obtain and put on protective and sanitary equipment and to walk to their place on the chicken processing line.  Plaintiffs allege that Mountaire failed to compensate plaintiffs and members of the proposed class for the time they spent donning and doffing, cleaning, and sanitizing their safety and sanitary equipment and gear, waiting for the line begin, and walking to and from the worksite on or near the processing floor.  Plaintiffs further allege Mountaire has a custom or policy of deducting the costs of personal protective equipment and other items of clothing made available to Mountaire employees from the employees’ wages.  Plaintiffs contend that Mountaire’s deduction policy violates state wage and hour laws.

The court held certification and notice were appropriate because the named plaintiffs and other members of the proposed class were or are employed by Mountaire, and they complain that Mountaire’s line time compensation system along with Mountaire’s PPE deduction policy have deprived them of wages to which they were or are entitled to under the FLSA and the NCWHA.  With collective and class action certification, Mountaire’s current and former chicken processing workers will receive written notification of their right to participate in the lawsuit.  The FLSA prevents employers from retaliating against any employee who chooses to exercise his or her right and participate in this action.