Former Tyson attorney sues in Iowa for wrongful termination
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A former workers’ compensation attorney for a Tyson Foods meatpacking division sued the company for wrongful termination, accusing company officials of making anti-gay slurs, filing false information in workers’ compensation cases, and sex and age discrimination.
Todd Beresford filed the lawsuit in state district court in Des Moines on Oct. 1 seeking damages for his June 2018 firing.
Beresford, who says he primarily worked on Tyson’s workers’ compensation cases in Iowa, alleges he was fired partly because he complained to corporate officials that the company was providing inaccurate information in workers’ compensation cases to deny employees payment for on-the-job injuries.
He also claims the company discriminated against employees on the basis of sex and age by firing four middle-age men in 2018 and replacing them with younger women. He claims his “age and/or sex, either individually or in combination, were motivating factors” in his firing.
Beresford, who now lives near Cleveland, was a witness in a recent lawsuit involving former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey. In that case, Godfrey won a $1.5 million verdict against former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and the state of Iowa after the jury found that Branstad and a staff member discriminated against Godfrey in 2011 because he’s gay. Branstad attempted to push Godfrey out of his job and cut his pay when Godfrey refused to resign.
Beresford said he was hired by Tyson as a litigation attorney in June 2000, replacing Godfrey, who was leaving the company to go into private practice and later became Iowa’s Workers’ Compensation Commissioner. The two worked together briefly at Tyson and remained friends after Godfrey’s departure.
In 2005, Tyson promoted Beresford to a job overseeing Tyson’s workers’ compensation program for the Fresh Meats division.
Beresford said in his lawsuit that Tyson officials grew frustrated with Godfrey’s decisions in workers’ compensation cases shortly after he became Iowa commissioner and held numerous meetings to discuss how to deal with him. Beresford said he was asked to prepare a memo for Branstad outlining the company’s belief that Godfrey had a bias against employers.
“Tyson thought Godfrey was too liberal, and Tyson management became upset that its workers compensation costs were increasing,” Beresford said in court documents.
He said a former company vice president on more than one occasion referred to Godfrey as queer and used disparaging anti-gay slurs when talking about how he believed Godfrey’s decisions were costing the company money.
Tyson Fresh Meats, based in South Dakota, is a meatpacking division of Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, the nation’s second largest meat processor. The company has several locations in Iowa including processing plants in Perry, Waterloo and Storm Lake.
A Tyson spokesman said the company would not comment.