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Topic: Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA)

Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds ARB Decision in Favor of Truck Driver Who was Fired After He Abandoned His Disabled Vehicle to Avoid Freezing to Death

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In a recent case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the Court upheld an Administrative Review Board (ARB) decision finding that a truck driver was terminated in violation of the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA).  The truck driver, Alphonse Maddin, unhitched his truck from a trailer and drove away to avoid freezing to death after the brakes on the trailer froze due and roadside assistance failed to respond.  Maddin had reported to his employer, TransAm Trucking, both the condition of the trailer and the threat to his health due to the freezing weather conditions.  The Court held that Maddin had engaged in protected activity under the STAA by reporting the frozen brakes and the threat to his health; and that the driver’s termination for leaving the trailer to seek safety violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the STAA.

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ARB Clarifies: Trucking Whistleblowers Face “Much Easier” Proof of Retaliation

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In two related decisions last month, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) noted that proving retaliation in trucking-related whistleblower cases became “much easier” in 2007 — and said that judges will no longer get a free pass on applying the old standard.

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ARB Affirms Punitive Damages for Two Whistleblowers

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirmed judgments against two transportation companies that fired employees who had reported health and safety issues — confirming in each case that the violation was grievous enough to trigger punitive damages.

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ARB: Whistleblower Must Be Rehired — Even If Job No Longer Exists

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) ordered the Mayo Clinic to rehire a mail truck driver it had removed for whistleblowing, despite the medical group’s protest that his job no longer exists — and that giving him a different job would require a promotion.

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ARB: Whistleblower Can Get Back Pay Even for Time in College

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) ruled that a whistleblower who was illegally forced out of his truck-driving job could claim back pay even for time he spent as a full-time college student.

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ARB Upholds Retaliation Award, Shows Broad Support for Punitive Damages

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) upheld a punitive-damages award of $100,000 in a truck driver’s retaliation case against UPS, flagging its broader reluctance to reject as excessive any punitive award under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA).

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Tennessee Trucking Company Agrees to Settle OSHA Whistleblower Lawsuit and Reinstate Employee

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Mark Alvis Inc., a trucking company based in Brush Creek, Tennessee, has agreed to pay $30,000 and reinstate a whistleblower who the company allegedly fired because he refused to make an illegal delivery.

On May 4, 2010, the employee injured himself while preparing a milk delivery.  When the company assigned him to make another delivery, he refused because he was tired and ill and did not have sufficient allowable service hours to make the drive the delivery required. When the employee returned to Bush Creek, the company told him to remove his belongings from the site. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the company’s actions violated the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.

OSHA’s regional administer in Atlanta, Cindy A. Coe, said, “OSHA will continue to ensure that America’s truck drivers’ right to refuse to drive when they are fatigued, ill or in violation of hours-of-service requirements is not undermined.”

The Employment Law Group® law firm has an extensive nationwide whistleblower practice representing employees who have been victims of retaliation.

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Arizona Trucking Company Ordered to Reinstate Former Employee and Pay $315,000 Settlement for Violating the Whistleblower Provision of STAA

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M3 Transport LLC/SLT Expressway Inc. and its successors-in-interest, Lyons Capital LLC and the Roadmaster Group in Glendale, Arizona, were ordered last week by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to reinstate a former truck driver and pay him $315,000 in damages after being found to have violated the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA).

On February 8, 2010, the employee was assigned a new co-driver to transport explosives to Canada. When the employee found the vehicle’s ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts, he notified his supervisors because his co-driver’s smoking while hauling explosives violates federal regulations. The employee was then ordered to go home until he was assigned a new co-driver.  Two days later, however, the company terminated him. OSHA determined that the termination was a retaliatory action taken because the employee reported his co-worker’s violations of federal law, and that the company therefore violated STAA.

In addition to ordering reinstatement and paying the former employee, M3 Transportation must also remove any adverse references related to the discharge from the employee’s personnel records and post a notice to inform all employees of their rights under STAA.

The Employment Law Group® law firm is a leader in the field of whistleblower protection law and has an extensive nationwide whistleblower practice representing employees – including commercial motor carrier whistleblowers – who have exposed illegal activity by their employer and suffered retaliation.

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Dept. of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) Clarifies Distinction Between Integrated Enterprise and Joint Employer Tests for Establishing Vicarious Liability under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) Whistleblower Provision

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The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) recently issued an opinion in Myers v. AMS/Breckenridge/Equity Group Leasing 1, ARB No. 10-144, ALJ Nos. 2010-STA-7 and 8 (ARB Aug. 3, 2012).  In Myers, the ARB reversed the ALJ’s decision finding the Respondent vicariously liable under a Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) whistleblower complaint as a “joint employer”.

The case involved a payroll firm (AMS) for an Arizona-based trucking company, New Rising Fenix, Inc. (NRF).  NRF hired Complainants Keona Myers and Russell Baxter and controlled much of their work assignments.  NRF eventually terminated Myers and Baxter after they complained about a malfunctioning vehicle they used in their work and later contacted the Arizona Department of Public Safety about their concerns.  Following this, the two workers filed an OSHA complaint under STAA and eventually amended their complaint to pursue AMS instead of NRF.

The ALJ found that Myers’ and Baxter’s termination was in violation of the STAA whistleblower provision and found AMS vicariously liable as a “joint employer.”  However, on appeal, the ARB reversed the ALJ after considering whether the two companies had sufficient relatedness for vicarious liability under either the “integrated enterprise test” or the “joint employer test”.

The ARB noted that for cases involving an “integrated enterprise”, a corporation may be found to be liable without knowing participation because the action of one corporate entity is also necessarily the act of both entities.  However, the ARB found that, here, the issue of vicarious liability turned on joint employer liability, not the issue of integrated enterprise as the Complainant did not suggest, nor did the ALJ find, that AMS and NRF were so integrated.

Under the joint employer test, the employing companies are assumed to be separate entities and are deemed as joint employers if the companies share or co-determine the essential terms and conditions of a worker’s employment.

In Myers, according to the ARB, AMS was not a joint employer as it has never exercised its “contractually reserved power” to control Myers’ and Baxter’s work.  Accordingly, the ARB found that “AMS was simply a single corporate ‘person’ under the STAA” and, therefore, AMS did not violate the STAA when NRF decided to terminate the whistleblowers on account of their protected activity.

The Employment Law Group® law firm is a leader in the field of whistleblower protection law and has an extensive nationwide whistleblower practice representing employees – including commercial motor carrier whistleblowers – who have exposed illegal activity by their employer and suffered retaliation.

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Tennessee Mail Carrier Settles STAA Whistleblower Lawsuit after Terminating Driver for Complaining About Defective Vehicles

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Heartland Transportation Inc., a U.S. Postal Service contract mail carrier based in Knoxville, Tennessee, has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) alleging that the company violated the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) when it terminated an employee for complaining about defective vehicles.

In August 2009, the driver was assigned a trailer with a nonworking light to deliver a truckload of mail to customers in Pontiac, Michigan. When he realized the trailer had a nonworking light, the driver complained and the light was fixed before he made his delivery.  However, the driver encountered and reported multiple other mechanical failures with the company’s vehicles.  He informed Heartland that he would not drive trucks with mechanical failures. When the driver returned to the company’s facility after making his delivery in Michigan, he found that the company had removed his name from the driving schedule. When he inquired about this, Heartland informed the driver that it had terminated his employment. The driver then filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA.

Following OSHA’s investigation, Heartland agreed to pay the former employee $31,200 in compensatory damages.  OSHA also ordered the carrier to remove all records regarding the involuntary discharge from the former employee’s personnel records, and to provide a neutral reference to any prospective employers. Heartland has also agreed to post a notice informing employees of their rights under STAA.

Cindy A. Coe, OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta, stated:

“OSHA will continue to ensure that the whistleblower protection provisions of the STAA are property and thoroughly enforced, while always keeping open the opportunity for settlement negotiations.”

The Employment Law Group® law firm has an extensive nationwide whistleblower practice  representing employees who have been victims of retaliation.

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