The Supreme Court has rejected a petition from Tyson Foods to have a case brought on behalf of four workers who died of COVID-19 heard in federal court rather than by a state judge. 

Without any explanation, as is its practice, the court turned down the petition from the meat processor, which was challenging an appeals court ruling that determined the case should be adjudicated in state court in Iowa.

Tyson argued that moving the case to federal court was justified under what’s known as “the federal officer removal statute,” which permits cases to be heard in U.S. courts if the company was acting under “federal direction and supervision.”

In the petition, Tyson said an executive order issued by then-President Donald Trump instructed “meat-processing facilities to continue or resume operations consistent with federal guidance, notwithstanding contrary state or local direction.”

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying Tyson “failed to show that it was performing a basic governmental task or operating pursuant to a federal directive in March and April of 2020.”

“We are glad that the Supreme Court has finally disposed of Tyson’s arguments that federal officials somehow compelled it to continue operating its Waterloo plant without taking appropriate precautions against COVID-19 and lying to workers about the safety of the plant,” said Public Citizen Litigation Group attorney Adam Pulver. “It is unfortunate that Tyson has chosen to devote such great resources to this meritless theory. It dishonors the memory of its workers – workers whose lives were literally the subject of bets by Tyson supervisors."

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In December 2020, Tyson fired seven employees at its Waterloo, Iowa, pork plant over allegations that they had wagered how many employees would contract COVID. The allegations were contained in an amended complaint filed on behalf of Isidro Fernandez, who died April 26, 2020, and whose son filed the suit on his behalf.

“While Tyson’s request for Supreme Court review has been progressing, the case has been proceeding in Iowa state court, where it is expected to continue,” Public Citizen said.

Tyson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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