Carrier ordered to pay driver $200k in firing deemed wrongful by federal judge

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Updated Aug 8, 2016
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A Department of Labor judge has ordered tank hauling carrier Neier, Inc, to pay nearly $200,000 in back pay, punitive and compensatory damages and attorney’s fees to a former driver after Neier fired him for refusing to accept a load the trucker said would have put him in violation of federal hours of service limits.

Neier was also ordered to reinstate the driver, Michael Butler, in the July 29, 2016 decision. The ruling was made by an administrative law judge for the U.S. Department of Labor, who found Neier in violation of laws protecting truck drivers from retaliation by their carrier employer for refusing loads that would put them sideways with federal safety regulations. The Surface Transportation Assistance Act bars carriers from firing drivers or punishing them by not giving them loads for refusing to drive in violation of safety regulations, adverse weather or when they feel too sick to operate.

Butler was fired on September 14, 2013, following a refused load on September 6, 2013.

The 75-truck Indianapolis fleet, however, says Butler was fired for refusing multiple loads without reason, for being two hours late to the meeting following the final refused load and for not disclosing a previous carrier employer on his employment application. Butler had filed a complaint against that carrier too for firing him for refusing loads, but he ultimately lost the case. Butler’s dispatcher at the carrier also reported Butler was often hard to reach on his phone.

Butler — and Judge Alice Carft, who overaw the case — refute Neier’s claims, saying the carrier had no documented evidence Butler had refused loads without reason. Butler also claimed he had been told to show up to meet with his boss at Neier at 10 a.m., rather than 8 a.m., as his supervisor suggested when Butler arrived to the meeting. Phone records also indicate Butler didn’t miss an unreasonable amount of calls from his dispatcher, Craft ruled.

The only other refused load noted on Butler’s record was when he claimed his brake pedal felt faulty and flagged the truck for an inspection and repair in a Neier shop. The carrier’s maintenance records corroborate Butler’s story that he took the truck in for brake work, according to court documents.

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Craft has ordered Neier to pay Butler $122,585 in back pay and interest, $50,000 in punitive damages, $10,000 in compensatory damages, post-judgement interest and an undisclosed amount on attorney’s fees.

Neier has also been ordered to post the court decision in hits employee notification area for 90 days, to notify the carriers’ other drivers of the order.