Swift Pork Co. accused of discouraging workers’ use of family medical leave

By: - November 26, 2021 9:00 am

Workers in a pork processing plant, 2016. (Photo by USGAO/Wikipedia)

An Iowa man is suing Swift Pork Co., alleging it discourages workers from taking advantage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court on behalf of Swift employee Raymond Black of Wapello County, seeks unspecified damages for alleged FMLA violations.

Black’s lawsuit alleges that in 2018, he applied for and was granted FMLA leave to care for his wife, who suffers from heart disease. In September 2019, Swift’s human resources director allegedly told Black the company was unilaterally limiting his use of FMLA to two times per month and two days per leave.

That action was allegedly part of a larger effort by the company to discourage employees from exercising their rights under the FMLA. The lawsuit claims Swift “installed a large board on the wall, visible as employees exit the cafeteria, which publicizes how many workers missed work that day, and how many employees missed work that day due to FMLA leave.”

Swift managers also instructed employees to reduce their use of FMLA leave, and supervisors mocked Black for his use of FMLA leave, the lawsuit alleges.

Following one FMLA-approved absence, Swift Supervisor Patrick Griffith and Maintenance Supervisor John White falsely accused Black not actually being at the hospital with his wife, claiming he was using the absence to go fishing or mushroom hunting instead, the lawsuit claims.

After being off work with pneumonia, Black returned to work, but no one at the plant would give him a job assignment, allegedly because White did not like the fact that Black was missing so much work.

Supervisors later refused to approve his use of vacation time, and the plant manager subsequently told Black that supervisors had said Black had quit and turned in his employee-identification card – although Black still had the card in his pocket and told the manager he hadn’t resigned. A week later, Black was fired, allegedly for “walking off the job.”

Swift Pork Co. does business in Iowa as JBS Foods. The company’s Wapello County plant is JBS Pork Production, located in Ottumwa.

The company has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.