Tyson Removes COVID-19 Related Case From Employees to District Court

On Friday, Tyson Foods Inc., along with other defendants, removed a case over liability for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic from the Potter County district court to the Northern District of Texas. A group of 40 employees at a Tyson meatpacking plant, and an individual representing the estate of another, alleged in the complaint filed on July 23 that Ernesto Sanchez, Kevin Kinikin, and Farren Fernandez, who are supervisors and managers at the Amarillo, Texas, plant, should be liable for damages because they did not take sufficient measures to protect the plaintiffs from the COVID-19 virus.

The defendants said the case should be moved because the petition brings issues of federal law and challenges “actions taken by Defendants at the direction of a federal officer.” In the notice, Tyson discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the “size and scope are without modern precedent.” The notice said that the death of Tyson employee Maung Maung Tar, “and the harm caused to the thousands of individuals who have contracted COVID-19, is tragic.”

The company, however, said that allegations against the defendants are incorrect, stating that its managers worked from the beginning of the pandemic to “follow federal workplace guidelines,” including guidelines from President Trump to continue producing food. They cite that millions of dollars were invested by the company in protection equipment and complying with federal instructions.

“Because Defendants were under a Presidential order to continue operations pursuant to the supervision of the federal government and pursuant to federal guidelines and directives, including directives from the Secretary of Agriculture and guidance from the CDC and (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) OSHA, federal court is the proper forum for resolving this case,” the notice stated.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs said that they were required to work by the company, despite a stay-at-home order in Texas, which began on April 2. They claimed the company “failed to take adequate precautions to protect the workers at its meatpacking facilities” both before and after the stay-at-home order. This allegedly included requiring individuals who had contracted the virus to continue working.

The plaintiffs said the individually named defendants were “directly responsible for implementing and enforcing adequate safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” but they “failed to fulfil their job duties to provide a safe working environment.” They purported that the company did not provide protective equipment, train employees, provide adequate medical treatment, or follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization.

They called Tyson’s actions “negligent and grossly negligent” and said this conduct caused the employees to contract the virus. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory, actual, exemplary, and consequential damages for pain and suffering in the past and future and loss of wages or earning capacity.

The complaint said at least 7,100 Tyson employees contracted the COVID-19 virus. A similar case filed by Rolandette Glenn, an employee of the Center, Texas, Tyson plant, and joined by other individuals was moved to the Eastern District of Texas on the same day.

The plaintiffs are represented by Arnold & Itkin and Young & Newsom. Tyson and the individual managers and supervisors are represented by Underwood Law Firm.