Lawsuit Against OSHA Regarding COVID-19 Measures at Meatpacking Plant Appealed to 3rd Circuit

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Labor regarding COVID-19 pandemic-related practices at Maid-Rite Specialty Foods filed an appeal of the Pennsylvania Middle District’s decision to dismiss their case on Friday. The lawsuit will now be considered before the Third Circuit.

Workers at the plant and Friends of Farmworkers, which does business as Justice At Work, filed the initial complaint last year to ask the court to require Maid-Rite to implement more practices to keep employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, they argued that a citation should be issued against the Scranton, Pennsylvania-based meatpacking plant. 

The lawsuit was dismissed on March 30 after Judge Malachy E. Mannion determined that the district court did not have jurisdiction over the matter, based on OSHA inspection and determination that imminent danger was not present. The court dismissed the matter at the defendant’s request, because OSHA opened an investigation as requested by the employees, and the employees should not have petitioned the court for a review of OSHA’s findings because there was not a Secretarial decision for it to review. 

Whether the court was responsible for addressing the plaintiffs’ claims was central to the debate in the lawsuit. Earlier this year the plaintiffs argued that the court should require OSHA to pursue an imminent danger order and that the court had the right to issue orders to OSHA in this matter. OSHA, however, said that it had correctly determined not to issue a citation to Maid-Rite in the initial review of the matter. 

The appeal was filed by “Jane Does I and III , and Friends of Farmworkers,” Jane Doe II is also a plaintiff. The appeal applied to the dismissal order, as well as a decision made by the court on the same day to strike exhibits and the memorandum filed alongside the order. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Towards Justice, Public Justice P.C., and attorneys with Friends of Farmworkers. OSHA and other federal defendants are represented by the U.S. Department of Justice.