On Friday, the Northern District of Texas ruled in favor of the defendants in a lawsuit alleging that Tyson Foods Inc. and managers at its Amarillo, Texas plant were responsible for one employee death and about 40 employee illnesses during the COVID-19 pandemic because they did not put sufficient safety measures in place.
The court granted a motion to dismiss filed by three individual supervisor defendants, denied the plaintiffs’ motions to remand the case to the Potter County district court, and denied the plaintiffs’ attempt to file a notice of “recent developments.”
According to the court’s filings, the plaintiffs were required to continue working at the plant even after the Texas governor issued a stay at home order which was effective on April 2, 2020. The 40 plaintiffs alleged that they contracted COVID-19 both before and after this order because Tyson and the manatees did not fulfil their responsibilities to ensure the workplace was safe.
Initially the complaint was filed only against the three managers, and later Tyson Foods was added as a defendant. The order granting the managers’ attempt to dismiss the allegations against them related that under Texas laws, employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment, and the duty is not delegable, however, in the plaintiffs’ amended complaint there is not a differentiation between the duties from the individual defendants and the corporation. The court dismissed claims against the three managers, noting that the plaintiffs could not claim that employees are liable when the employer committed the same acts.
In the court’s second order, it denied the plaintiffs’ motion to remand the lawsuit back to Texas state courts noting that the removing defendant, Tyson, bears the burden of establishing the need for federal jurisdiction which the court found was fulfilled. The court determined that the defendants “asserted a colorable federal defense,” and that they acted under federal directions since meatpacking plants were designated as critical during the COVID-19 pandemic and asked to stay open. Tyson was reportedly in contact with various federal agencies regarding operations after the national emergency began.
The plaintiffs are represented by Arnold & Itkin, the Law Offices of Frank L. Branson, and Lovell Lovell Isern & Farabough. Tyson and the individual managers and supervisors are represented by Underwood Law Firm and Perkins Coie.