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Suit Alleges Tysons Unfairly Treats Poultry Growers; John Oliver Looks at Problem

A lawsuit alleging that Tysons Food is rigging a tournament system so that poultry growers are unfairly paid has been moved to federal court. 

Ten poultry farmers had filed suit in Hanover County, Kentucky, claiming that Tysons is not treating them fairly in the system it set up, ostensibly to pay farmers according to the quality of their chicks, which Tysons provides to the farmers. WBM partner John Whitfield represents the plaintiffs.

“By ranking individual growers, including plaintiffs, defendants wrongfully place each grower into a competitive posture against all other growers and arbitrarily penalizes each less successful grower based upon criteria which are under the total control of defendants and which are never revealed, explained or discussed with plaintiffs,” according to the suit.

John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” featured the tournament on his show, pointing out that farmers are being forced to compete against their neighbors. “It’s like an agricultural ‘Glengarry, Glen Ross,’ or more like ‘Hengarry, HenRoss,’” he said. “Companies take a hard line against complainers.”

“Tysons has been sending some farmers chicks that are diseased or have congenital defects, or don’t deliver enough feed,” Whitfield said, “making it impossible for those farmers to receive fair compensation. In addition, certain growers were exempted from the tournament illegally, which caused detriment to our clients.

In addition, the suit alleges that Tysons has forced some farmers to convert their facilities to handle only chickens, and doesn’t always provide enough feed for its farmers.

“Defendants devised and implemented a scheme to defraud plaintiffs in that they extended advantages to other competing growers that were not extended to plaintiffs,” they said in the suit. “Namely providing replacement chicks to competing growers without reflecting these facts on the settlement statements for the respective competitive rounds … to the advantage of plaintiffs’ competitor at plaintiffs’ detriment.”

 The plaintiffs are seeking claims for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith, fraud and fair dealing.