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Win for Whistleblower Clarifies Joint Employer Liability

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On September 1, 2010, Administrative Law Judge Robert Rae issued an order holding that a joint employer’s “‘ability to exercise control’ by hiring, transferring, promoting, reprimanding or discharging [a whistleblower], or the ‘ability to influence’ another employer to take such actions is sufficient to establish joint employer liability under the [Surface Transportation Assistance Act].”  The order was issued in the consolidated cases of Myers v. AMS/Breckenridge/Equity Grp. Leasing 1 and Baxter v. AMS/Breckenridge/Equity Grp. Leasing 1.   We originally blogged about ALJ Rae’s denial of the Respondent’s motion to dismiss here.

The Respondent contracted with New Rising Phoenix, Inc., a trucking company, to provide payroll, benefits, and human resource services.  The contract contained language required by Florida law which provided the Respondent with the authority to hire, terminate, and reassign leased employees, and the right to control the safety, risk, and hazards which affect leased employees.  The contract also specified that the responsibility for payment of wages and management of workers’ compensation and unemployment claims lay with the Respondent. 

The respondent argued that while the contract contained such language, it did so only because the language was mandated by Florida law.  In practice, the respondent did not actually exercise any authority over the complainants or any of their co-workers.  ALJ Rae found this argument unconvincing, holding that “Respondent affirmatively contracted for the authority to exercise control over employment . . . any ambiguity created thereby should be construed against Respondent, the party that drafted the contract.” 

Complainants Baxter and Myers were each awarded $25,000 for emotional distress as well as $20,363.20 and $11,035.20 respectively for back pay plus attorneys’ fees and costs. 

The Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) protects bus drivers, truckers, and other employees who blow the whistle about the unsafe operation of commercial motor vehicles.  To learn more about The Employment Law Group® law firm’s Commercial Motor Carrier Whistleblower Practice, click here.

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