Court eliminates claim for sleeper berth pay in Werner class action

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 2/7/2017

A Nebraska federal court has granted Werner Enterprises’ motion that they weren’t obligated to pay truck drivers during sleeper berth time but allowed a class action lawsuit against the company to move forward.

The class action lawsuit is made up of 50,000 student drivers who allege that Werner violated federal and state wage and hour laws.

U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp denied the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on sleeper berth compensation on Thursday, Feb. 2. Camp, however, denied Werner’s motion to decertify the class.

The lawsuit involves Werner’s Student Driver Program, where students were plaid a flat weekly rate while training with an experienced driver for about eight weeks. Werner paid trainees with the higher of $50 per day or $7.25 per “on duty” hour. Philip Petrone and the other student drivers in the lawsuit allege that minimum wage laws were violated because Werner improperly designated significant amounts of legally compensable time as “off-duty” leading to under-compensation.

The plaintiffs complained of three separate violations:

  • A practice of failing to compensate employees for breaks of less than 20 minutes.
  • A practice of failing to compensate for time employees spent communicating with Werner headquarters via the Qualcomm system.
  • A practice of failing to compensate for sleeping periods in excess of eight hours. 

In August 2015, the court said the plaintiffs were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on their claims for sleeper berth compensation and compensation for short rest breaks. In September 2015, Werner filed a motion for reconsideration.

Last week, Camp said no reasonable jury could find that Werner willfully failed to compensate plaintiffs for sleeper-berth time to which they were entitled.

“Truck drivers are generally not on duty when in a sleeping berth, and such time is presumed to be non-compensable,” Camp wrote.

The rest of the class action can move forward, the court concluded.

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