TEXARKANA, Texas — A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in connection with the pandemic and a chicken processing plant in Mount Pleasant, Texas, accuses Pilgrims Pride of putting profits above worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complaint now pending in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas was filed by Houston lawyer Eugene Egdorf on behalf of Sybil Elijah and Rayford Brown. Both Elijah and Brown are named individually and as representatives of the estates of spouses who perished as a result of infection with COVID-19.
Named as defendants are Pilgrims Pride Corporation and its parent company, JBS USA Holdings. Also named is Packers Sanitation Services, a food safety company. None of the defendants could be reached for comment Thursday.
According to the complaint, plaintiff Sybil Elijah contracted COVID in May 2020 while working as a custodian at the Pilgrim's plant in Mount Pleasant. She allegedly brought the virus home to her husband, David Elijah, who was disabled and home-bound with a previous leg amputation.
David Elijah died of COVID on May 22, according to a death certificate attached to the complaint. The complaint alleges that Pilgrims waited too long to implement measures such as mask wearing, social distancing, on site testing, temperature monitoring and mandating that sick or knowingly exposed employees stay home for a recovery or quarantine period.
"Any steps to prevent COVID-19 infections that were taken by defendants were too late," the complaint alleges. "Defendants knew that its failure to take these steps in a timely manner presented a severe risk to the health and lives of employees and their families."
Plaintiff Rayford Brown is the widow of Elnora Brown. Elnora Brown allegedly contracted COVID while working at the Mount Pleasant plant and died June 16 as a result of the infection.
"Decedent Elnora Brown was not required or instructed to wear a mask, facial shield or other precautions until late May or early June of 2020," the complaint alleges.
The suit accuses the defendants of negligence and of making "fraudulent misrepresentations."
"The defendants knew that workers at the Pilgrim's Pride Mt. Pleasant Plant had become infected with COVID-19, and/or were displaying symptoms consistent with COVID-19 in May 2020," the complaint alleges. "Despite this knowledge, the defendants did not warn workers that others at the Pilgrim's Pride Mt. Pleasant Plant had become infected with COVID-19 and/or were displaying symptoms consistent with COVID-19."
The complaint alleges that knowledge of infections were "willfully and intentionally" withheld.
"The defendants' motivation for intentionally misrepresenting the safety of the Pilgrim's Pride Mt. Pleasant plant was to make money and to continue to profit," the complaint alleges.
The complaint seeks actual, compensatory and exemplary or punitive damages as well as attorney fees and court costs.
The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder III.