Labor Department sues Star Air for failing to pay, reinstate employees

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Star Air and its owner, Robert R. Custer, alleging he failed to comply with a final order to pay two former employees more than $612,000 and reinstate them. 

The former employees, who worked primarily as commissioned ammunition sales representatives for Star, also drove the ammunition to gun shows in box trucks around the U.S. on weekends.

According to court documents, in January 2003, one of the drivers for North Canton, OH-based Star Air was stopped on his way to a gun show in Virginia. The employee was cited by the West Virginia State Police for hauling a load in excess of 10,000 pounds without a Class A commercial driver’s license; operating an overweight trailer; driving a commercial vehicle without displaying the company’s name and DOT number; and driving without a logbook.

Court documents state the Star Air trucks loaded with quantities of ammunition “classify as hazardous” under the regulations and failed to display hazmat placards.

After the first employee was cited, he then called another Star Air employee on his way to a gun show in Illinois – also driving a box truck. When both employees refused to continue driving until the violations were remedied, they were later fired.

According to one employee’s testimony, the company’s owner told him “this didn’t really happen very often, and it would be a big mess to weave through it and figure out what the law really wanted us to do. And it was cheaper to keep going along as we have been going along.”

The employees then filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which enforces the whistleblower provisions under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. The whistleblower provisions prevent companies from retaliating against employees who raise safety concerns.

A final decision was issued by the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board on Dec. 19, 2011. It required the company to reinstate the two employees to their former positions and “take what affirmative action is necessary to abate all violations of the Department of Transportation regulations.”

The company was ordered to pay one employee more than $181,468, a second employee more than $341,800 in back wages, and pay more than $79,000 in attorney’s fees and costs, after Star Air was found to have violated the whistleblower provisions under Surface Transportation Assistance Act.

“To date, Star Air has not taken any action to comply, prompting the department’s suit, which has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio,” according to the Department of Labor news release.

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