Jerry Seper, Washington Times, Jun. 11
A federal appeals court has ruled that former employees of a Tyson Foods Inc. poultry processing plant can seek damages in a lawsuit that accuses the company of hiring illegal aliens to depress wages.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled this week that the former employees can sue Tyson under a provision of a 1996 law making the intentional employment of illegal aliens for financial gain a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The appeals court ruling overturns a lower court decision denying the employees the opportunity to seek damages from Tyson under the RICO Act. The panel said the trial court had misapplied the law and wrongly dismissed the case, but the judges added that the case could be dismissed on other grounds in the future.
“Plaintiffs still face a number of obstacles,” the panel said. “The case may not survive a summary judgment motion if the economic and other factual premises of the plaintiff’s claim reveal a causal relationship that is too weak or too attenuated.”
U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar in Chattanooga, Tenn., dismissed the suit in July 2002, saying the company’s workers were covered by a collective bargaining agreement and that the union — not the workers — would have to pursue claims of damage.
The employees, who worked at Tyson’s Shelbyville, Tenn., plant, sued the Springdale, Ark.-based company, charging that it operated a hiring scheme through a “complex and highly disciplined network of recruiters and temporary-employment agencies” who brought illegal aliens into the country and supplied them with phony identification documents.
The suit, filed by Birda Trollinger, Robert Martinez, Tabetha Edding and Doris Jewell, charged that more than half of the workers at 15 Tyson plants were illegal aliens.
“While the work at Tyson plants is grueling and extremely dangerous, the company avoids paying market wages to its employees as a result of the successful perpetration of the illegal immigrant hiring scheme,” the suit said.
Officials at Tyson, the world’s largest producer of poultry, expressed disappointment at the ruling, but said they were confident that the company ultimately would win the case. They said the accusations are based on federal charges Tyson had successfully defended during a jury trial last year in Chattanooga.
In that trial, the jury acquitted the company and three former Tyson managers of conspiring to hire illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America for $7-an-hour jobs at the company’s poultry plants. Two former managers who made plea deals were sentenced to one year of probation.
The Justice Department named Tyson Foods in December 2002 in a 36-count indictment charging that the company conspired to smuggle illegal aliens to plants throughout the United States.
According to the indictment, handed up in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, Tyson executives and managers conspired to import and transport illegal aliens from the Southwest border to Tyson processing plants throughout the country. Fifteen Tyson plants in nine states were implicated in the conspiracy.
The indictment said the firm cultivated a “corporate culture” in which the hiring of illegal aliens was “condoned” to meet production goals and cut costs. It said one of the managers had told an undercover investigator that the firm would pay $200 for each illegal alien delivered.
It described a scheme by which the company requested delivery of illegal aliens to Tyson plants, saying the executives and managers “aided and abetted” the immigrants in obtaining false documents so that they could work at the processing plants “under the false pretense of being legally employable.”