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Tyson makes deal in price-fixing suit

by Nathan Owens | January 13, 2021 at 2:26 a.m.
FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009, file photo, a Tyson Foods, Inc., truck is parked at a food warehouse in Little Rock.

Tyson Foods has agreed to a settlement of a class-action lawsuit alleging the industry fixed meat chicken prices for years, cheating their buyers in the process.

According to the notice, filed in Rockford, Ill., federal court on Monday, direct buyers that sued Tyson Foods and other chicken suppliers over price-fixing claims have reached an agreement with Tyson to settle all claims against the Springdale-based company.

Terms of the agreement are being worked out with all involved parties and are subject to the court's approval before being made final. Pilgrim's Pride reached an agreement with direct buyers to settle all claims for $75 million.

Details of a settlement price were not included in Tyson's court filing and the company declined to comment on the amount.

"Tyson believes the resolution is in the best interests of the company and its shareholders and the settlement does not constitute an admission of liability," spokesman Gary Mickelson said in an email Tuesday.

Tyson is expected to notify shareholders of a settlement price and how it could affect earnings results in the near future.

Pilgrim's Pride on Monday said the $75 million settlement will be reflected in its fourth quarter 2020 financial statements.

The agreements do not settle claims made by plaintiffs that are not in the "direct purchaser" plaintiff class, such as indirect buyers and end-user consumers. Companies do not typically admit any liability or wrongdoing when they settle.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, accused Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's Pride and others of conspiring to manipulate the price of meat chickens from as early as 2008 through a variety of tactics, including restricting production to limit output.

The companies repeatedly denied all allegations over the years. Meanwhile, the number of plaintiffs such as restaurants, groceries and other food companies grew, adding their own lawsuits alleging that they had spent billions of dollars on overpriced chicken.

The Justice Department eventually got involved with its own criminal price-fixing investigation and last year indicted 10 former and current food company executives and employees for their participation in the conspiracy. Three of the workers have ties to companies in Arkansas.

Federal Judge Thomas Durkin has so far approved four settlements brought to him by former defendants, including George's Inc. and Peco Foods, who agreed to pay $4.25 million and $5.15 million, respectively.

Pilgrim's Pride and Tyson are the largest chicken companies to seek approval for a settlement agreement in the case.

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