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Lawsuit says Tyson Foods misled shareholders about COVID-19 protocols

NEW YORK, Feb 2 (Reuters) - U.S. meat and poultry processor Tyson Foods Inc was sued on Tuesday for allegedly defrauding shareholders with misleading disclosures about its ability to combat the spread of the coronavirus in its facilities.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed in Brooklyn federal court by Mingxue Guo, who lives in Canada, and seeks unspecified damages for Tyson shareholders from March 13 to Dec. 15, 2020.

It followed a Dec. 15 letter from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that asked the regulator to investigate Tyson’s health and safety disclosures to investors, which include the $229 billion New York City Retirement Systems.

Tyson’s share price fell 2.2% on Dec. 15 and 8.5% over five trading days after Stringer accused the company of “flagrantly misrepresenting its poor pandemic response,” and called on the SEC to probe Tyson’s claims it had been adhering to federal safety guidelines.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson defended the company’s handling of the pandemic, saying it has spent more than $500 million on employee safety, including coronavirus tests on thousands of workers a week.

“Our top priority will always be the health and safety of our people,” Mickelson said.

Stringer’s letter to the SEC cited reports that Tyson had more than three times as many COVID-19 cases--11,087 as of Dec. 3--and twice as many deaths as any other meatpacking company.

Tyson employed about 139,000 people as of Dec. 14 and is based in Springdale, Arkansas.

Other defendants in the lawsuit include Tyson Chief Executive Dean Banks, his predecessor and current Vice Chairman Noel White, and Chief Financial Officer Stewart Glendinning.

The case is Guo v Tyson Foods Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 21-00552.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Sam Holmes

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