CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge threw out a long-running lawsuit that accused Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat producer, of hiring illegal immigrants to depress wages.
U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier in a Wednesday order granted the Springdale, Ark.-based company's motion for a summary judgment in the 2002 damage suit.
An attorney for Tyson, Roger Dickson of Chattanooga, said in a telephone interview that the company was happy with the ruling. He declined comment about any possible implications for other businesses that might face similar claims.
The attorney for four employees who sued, Howard Foster of Chicago, said when contacted by phone Wednesday that he did not have time to comment.
The lawsuit by Birda Trollinger, Robert Martinez, Tabetha Edding and Doris Jewell sought compensation, contending the company violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by knowingly hiring illegal immigrants who were willing to work for wages below those acceptable to Americans.
The judge's order said ''plaintiffs failed to demonstrate Tyson was harboring or concealing illegal aliens'' at its plants in Shelbyville, Tenn.; Ashland, Gadsden and Heflin in Alabama; Center, Texas; Glen Allen, Va. and Sedalia, Mo. The order said plaintiffs provided evidence that could have been presented to a jury to show Tyson was concealing unauthorized employees at its Corydon, Ind., facility but failed to show that Tyson's violations ''caused their injuries.''
In May 2002, Tyson filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that because its workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, the union and not individual workers would have to pursue claims of damage. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, but an appeals court disagreed and said it could proceed.
At one point Collier had suggested possibly involving a mediator in an attempt to reach a settlement.
The company's lead attorney, Tom Green of Washington, D.C., said then that Tyson was not inclined to participate in such discussions.
Green previously said the legal fight was about costing Tyson millions of dollars to be in a case they should not be in.
Green in 2003 successfully defended Tyson and three former managers accused of conspiring to hire illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America for low-wage production jobs to boost profits. Two former Tyson managers who made plea deals were each sentenced to one year of probation.
Green and other Tyson attorneys had argued that if the company hired illegal workers, it was because of the underground market for phony immigration papers and the government's flawed system of screening immigrants.