WICHITA, Kan. (AP) A federal judge on Monday granted conditional class-action status to a lawsuit filed on behalf of an estimated 700 workers at the Creekstone Farms Premium Beef slaughterhouse in Arkansas City.
U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren ruled that the class would include all hourly production employees who have been subjected to so-called “gang time” compensation practices for the past three years. The practice pays employees only for time the product is moving on the line, plus 10 minutes to put on and take off protective gear.
“We are pleased with the ruling,” said Mark Kistler, the Overland Park attorney representing the workers. “It will allow us to continue to move forward with the case.”
The order essentially allows the plaintiffs to send notices to class members to see if they want to join the lawsuit, he said.
Alan Rupe, the attorney representing Creekstone Farms, said he was not surprised by the judge’s decision.
“The threshold for determining whether there is a class action is very low, so it doesn’t take a lot to accomplish that,” Rupe said. “What I will tell you is that the test is whether the defendant has treated the plaintiffs and potential plaintiffs all alike and the answer to that is absolutely. We have treated them all alike because we paid them all according to Kansas law.”
The slaughterhouse workers claim in their lawsuit that the company hasn’t been paying employees for all the time they spend working. Creekstone contends it has paid employees for all time worked, including overtime.
Melgren noted in his ruling that it is inappropriate for the court to examine the merits of the claims at this stage in the proceedings, saying the court considers conditional certification under a “lenient standard” which the workers who filed the lawsuit meet. The court will employ a more stringent standard after the parties have completed discovery.
The judge also ordered the company to give the plaintiffs the names, addresses and telephone numbers for each member of the class. He also ordered Creekstone Farms to post notice of the class-action lawsuit in both English and Spanish in conspicuous locations at its Arkansas City facility.
Melgren approved as class representatives the two workers who initially filed the lawsuit, Paz Sanchez and Elvis Posadas.