Student drivers denied new trial in wage suit against Werner

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line associate editor | 2/13/2018

A class of student drivers’ attempt at a new trial in a class action against Werner Enterprises has been denied.

In May 2017, a federal jury in Nebraska awarded nearly $780,000 to Werner student drivers who weren’t paid for rest breaks of 20 minutes or less. However, the class asked that the judgement be altered or amended, arguing that the jury’s verdict was based on an erroneous legal standard. Specifically, the student drivers were requesting a partial judgment “as to the compensability of sleeper berth time” or a partial new trial. The plaintiffs sought almost $2.2 million in attorney’s fees, as well as about $200,000 in nontaxable costs and $10,000 each for the named plaintiffs.

The Nebraska federal judge didn’t grant a new trial, saying “there has been no miscarriage of justice that justifies amending the judgement and/or granting a new trial.”

Instead, the plaintiffs were awarded $337,293.69 in attorney’s fees, $133,276.63 in nontaxable costs and expenses, and $10,000 for each of the four named plaintiffs.

The class action is made up of more than 50,000 student drivers from August 2008 until Aug. 1, 2014.

During the time period, Werner’s Student Driver Program paid student drivers a flat weekly rate while training with an experienced driver for about eight weeks. Werner paid trainees the higher of $50 per day or $7.25 per “on duty” hour. Philip Petrone and the other student drivers alleged that minimum wage laws were violated because Werner improperly designated significant amounts of legally compensable time as “off-duty.” The student drivers alleged that not being paid for short rest breaks caused them to be paid less than minimum wage.

The jury determined that Werner failed to pay for short breaks and awarded nearly $780,000 to the student drivers. The class also alleged that Werner failed to compensate drivers for sleeper berth time. However, the jury sided with Werner on those claims.

The lawsuit began in 2012.



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