On January 6, 2015, Husch Blackwell obtained summary judgment for ConAgra Foods, ending a two-year collective action filed by supervisor employees alleging they had been misclassified as exempt under federal and state wage and hour laws. The case is Evelyn Garrison, et al. v. ConAgra Foods Packaged Foods, LLC, No. 4:12-cv-00737-SWW. With this result, the firm preserved the management structure that exists in many industrial processes – particularly those in the food processing and packaging industry.

The plaintiffs in this case were Team Leaders in ConAgra Foods’ Russellville, Arkansas facility. The plaintiffs conceded that they performed most of the duties necessary to make them exempt under federal and state wage and hour laws, but argued they lacked the authority to hire or fire, or to make recommendations as to the hiring, firing, etc. of subordinate employees, so they could not be executive employees. The court conditionally certified a class of plaintiffs under the Fair Labor Standards Act and discovery proceeded after all individuals had an opportunity to join.

ConAgra Foods filed for summary judgment on all claims by all plaintiffs, arguing that the plaintiffs had significant input into their subordinate employees’ performance, discipline and discharge, scheduling (including overtime), retention, and promotions/demotions. ConAgra further argued that, even though these employees lacked the ultimate authority to implement these status changes, upper management gave particular weight to the Team Leaders’ recommendations, making them exempt under federal and state wage and hour laws. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas agreed and entered its opinion and order with a full grant of summary judgment.

The Husch Blackwell team of Joe Glynias, A.J. Weissler, and Brittany Falkowski led the effort for ConAgra Foods. As many of our clients are aware, the management structure in place in Russellville is common in the food processing and packaging industry, and it has become a target for plaintiffs’ lawyers across the country. We are pleased to have obtained this victory on behalf of our client and partner, ConAgra Foods, and to have added this further safeguard for the management structure of many other companies.