Drivers score victory in Werner class action case

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Friday, August 21, 2015

A federal judge’s recent rulings in a driver pay case involving a class of thousands of drivers who participated in Werner Enterprise’s Student Driver Program found that the company failed to pay its drivers for sleeper berth time and short rest breaks.

The findings set the stage for a trial in September to determine damages owed to a class of thousands of Werner drivers who participated in the driver training program for up to three years prior to the initial filing of the class action suit on Sept. 14, 2011.

According to the initial collective class action complaint filed on behalf of plaintiff Philip Petrone and other similarly situated drivers, Werner Enterprises and its subsidiary driver training program, Drivers Management LLC, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by intentionally failing to compensate the class members for wages earned while in the company’s employment.

Petrone’s suit alleges he was enrolled in Werner’s Student Driver Program, a mandatory six- to eight-week course for new hires. While in the program, the company violated Nebraska labor laws by failing to pay plaintiffs the minimum wage for hours they worked. Specifically, the suit alleges that drivers were cheated out of funds due to them for rest breaks and meals.

The suit was transferred later that year to Nebraska, where Werner’s corporate headquarters are located. It was certified as a class action on Dec. 19, 2012, and includes all drivers who participated in the company’s over-the-road training program three years prior to the 2011 filing date of Petrone’s original motion.

In his ruling on Aug. 3, U.S. District Court Judge Lyle E. Strom held that Werner violated state and federal law with its sleeper berth and rest break policies.

“Werner’s policy for short rest periods on its face complied with the law,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “However, in practice Werner did not compensate student drivers for short rest periods under 20 minutes logged Line 1 on the Qualcomm system. As a result, the Court will grant the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on the issue of short rest breaks.”

Attorneys at Swartz Swidler, an employment law firm in Cherry Hill, N.J., posted an update about the case on their website on Aug. 7, touting the judge’s ruling as “a major victory.” According to the statement on the website, the upcoming trial will also decide whether Werner’s conduct was reasonable and in good faith. If the trial determines the company acted in bad faith, double damages may be awarded and the company could be compelled to pay an additional damage award into a fund to benefit Nebraska schools.

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