High court denies Swift's petition, sends case back to lower court for review

By Clarissa Hawes, Land Line staff writer | 6/24/2014

Since 2009, a class of Swift Transportation drivers, who leased trucks through the company’s subsidiary, Interstate Equipment Leasing Co., have waged a legal battle over the terms of the Independent Contractor Operating Agreements they signed.

On Monday, June 16, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Swift Transportation’s petition asking the high court to review the lower court’s ruling.

Daniel Getman of the law firm Getman & Sweeney PLLC told Land Line that the high court’s decision to deny Swift’s cert is good news for truckers.

Swift filed its petition with the high court in February 2014, challenging the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that the district court must decide “whether the Federal Arbitration Act applies to this case before sending the case to arbitration.”

Getman said that if Swift had succeeded in overturning the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, drivers who signed the independent contractor lease agreements would individually have to ask the court whether the contract they signed was an employment contract or whether the independent contractor lease agreement would be subject to arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act.

“Clearly these drivers signed an agreement stating they were independent contractors, when in reality, they were employees of the company and had no control over their businesses,” Getman told Land Line. “Few drivers would have the financial means to go through the (Federal Arbitration Act) arbitration process, which is what Swift wants.”

Getman said that when he first read through the Swift drivers’ independent contractor agreements, it took him weeks to sort through the “very complex ways the company used to “skim money from the drivers.”

“When I first read through these contracts, I found so many ways that Swift placed all of the financial burden on the drivers, but the only one benefiting from the independent contractor was Swift,” Getman said. “Then if the company doesn’t like the current terms of the contract, they just change it. Then the drivers are forced to make a decision to either default on their contract and lose everything or knuckle down and comply with the terms of the new contract.”

Another issue the drivers’ claimed in the class action complaint was that their contracts could be terminated “at will,” and the terminated drivers would still be on the hook for the remaining lease payments.”

“I have seen drivers lose their homes, their families or are forced to file for bankruptcy because they signed this contract,” Getman said. “This is a largely hidden issue and one that’s hidden from the drivers until after they have already signed these draconian contracts.”

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