Appeals court rules for Jennie-O on pay issue

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 19, 2011 - 5:59 PM

Turkey giant Jennie-O is not required to pay its workers for the time it takes to put on and take off their production-line uniforms, a practice known in the trade as "donning and doffing,'' under a ruling this week by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The appeals court decision upholds a similar finding in Hennepin County District Court that the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act does not apply to the workers if they are paid overtime at 40 hours per week, not 48 hours as set by state law.

"A claim for unpaid overtime compensation under [the state law] fails as a matter of law if the amount of compensation received by a plaintiff for a workweek exceeds the amount required to be paid under the act for that workweek," Judge Gordon Shumaker wrote for the appeals court.

The ruling potentially ends a six-year dispute in a case that was closely watched by other Minnesota businesses.

"This would have been a big deal if it had gone the other way," said Joe Schmitt, an employment attorney with Nilan Johnson and co-author of a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Jennie-O for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. "That could have created significant issues for Minnesota employers. It could have affected other things, such as when do you turn your [work] computer on."

Tom Pursell, the Lindquist & Vennum attorney who represents the 13,000 past and current Jennie-O workers covered by the lawsuit, said the plaintiffs were "very disappointed" with the outcome.

"We're still studying it. Our next avenue would be to petition the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the decision. We think this case is important enough that they should take it. But we haven't made that decision yet," Pursell said.

A similar suit against Gold'n Plump Poultry resulted in a $1.2 million out-of-court settlement two years ago between the St. Cloud-based company and 3,000 employees.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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