SPECIAL REPORT: Truckers take stand in DAC trial

| 8/24/2006

Aug. 24, 2006 By the end of testimony Thursday, all six truckers named as individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit against DAC Services were scheduled to have had their turn in the witness box.

Those six truckers - Steven Bussone, William Meck, Jeff Mathews, Shane Paul, Richard Lee Sisemore and Dale Stewart - each have a unique story to tell when it comes to DAC, which is technically part of USIS Commercial Services Inc.

But the common thread tying their stories together is one that binds just about every trucker on the road - and that's what led the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association to pursue the case against DAC.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004 in the U.S. District Court in Denver. The trial began Monday in the courtroom of Judge Robert E. Blackburn and is scheduled to last through Labor Day week.

The case hinges on the work history reports and other information that DAC receives from motor carriers and sells to other motor carrier clients. And although DAC's lawyer Larry Henry said in his opening statement Monday that trucking companies use those documents in their hiring processes, he later contradicted himself and told the eight-member jury that the DAC reports were never intended to be "a selection tool or a hiring tool."

Regardless what they were intended to be, OOIDA and the truckers contend that the DAC reports are actually consumer reports and therefore subject to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, which includes mandates about the collection and release of personal information and requires an individual's permission to do so.

The federal law also requires that anyone gathering and compiling such information take great care to ensure its accuracy - and that requirement goes to the heart of the case as far as many truckers are concerned.

Earlier this week, a communication expert testified that the DAC-approved definitions for terms used in its reports range from "really, really bad" to "problematic." Those definitions are what DAC gives to motor carriers who file work history information forms, which are then sold to other motor carriers who are interviewing prospective drivers.

Wednesday, the lead attorney on the case for the truckers, Randall Herrick-Stare, put some pointed questions to a DAC employee regarding the accuracy of the terms and the reports generated by their use.

Lynetta Miller is a 17-year veteran at DAC Services. She testified that from 1989 until about two months ago she was in charge of the consumer department at DAC.

Miller said the department works a lot with the DAC definitions and reports and specifically works with drivers who call with complaints about reports describing their work histories. She did not specify why her job assignment has changed, but did testify that "at the present time I don't have a specific title. ... I am looking for other interests with other companies."

Early in her testimony, Miller agreed with the OOIDA's attorney's statement that DAC reports are indeed consumer reports - a key fact that DAC's lawyers have disputed from the get-go.

"... You would agree, I assume, that DAC reports are consumer reports governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act?" Herrick-Stare asked Miller during direct examination Wednesday.

"Yes," Miller said, and then went on to agree that DAC is bound by the federal law to "exercise (its) grave responsibilities with fairness, impartiality and the respect for the consumer's right to privacy."

Later, almost echoing some of the language used by the truckers to challenge the DAC reports, Miller testified that "It's important that the reports be accurate. If they are not, they are worthless to the industry..."

The accuracy of the DAC reports about their work histories is exactly what spurred the trucker plaintiffs and OOIDA to file suit against DAC.

In the guts of the complaint against DAC, the truckers and OOIDA stated that "all of them (the six truckers) have been the subject of inaccurate consumer reports transmitted by carriers, without notice to them and without their permission, to USIS, followed by inaccurate consumer reports retransmitted by USIS to other carriers."

Each of the truckers' testimony touched on different DAC-approved terms to describe their work histories:

  • Steven Bussone: the DAC report stated he abandoned equipment, when what he did with the equipment was what he had been told to do with it.
  • Richard Lee Sisemore: the DAC report stated he had "equipment loss," "late pickup/delivery," and not eligible for rehire. Sisemore testified that he disputed the report and DAC would not inform him of the basis for the negative work descriptors
  • Dale Stewart: the DAC report said he had pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a child, which the Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran testified is not part of his personal or professional past. Stewart said the remainder of his DAC report was accurate, but that the inaccurate criminal information had put "a black mark on me forever."

These six drivers are among the 4.7 million that USIS/DAC admits to having reports on in its database. The company has stated that is has 2,500 motor carriers as clients and that 95 percent of the country's top 100 motor carriers are included in its client list.

- By Coral Beach, staff editor