Former employee sues trucking company for coercing texting at the wheel

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Friday, April 28, 2017

A former employee of a trucking company has filed a lawsuit alleging he was wrongfully fired. According to court documents, the man was fired for refusing to respond to text messages while driving.

In July 2014, Thomas Aylott was hired by Southern California-based Commodity Trucking Acquisition as a project manager and safety manager for its San Diego division. Aylott supervised truck drivers employed by the company, including enforcing such safety policies as a “hands free” policy that prohibits texting while driving.

Sometime in March, a general manager, James Cloud, approached Aylott about an unanswered text he had sent the project and safety manager. Aylott explained he does not text and drive, and all communication to him should be in the form of a phone call so he can use his Bluetooth device.

A few weeks later, Cloud sent a text to Aylott requesting he make a stop in San Diego on his way back to the office. Aylott did not see the text since he was driving, but did happen to stop and see the text. In response, he urged Cloud to call rather than text.

Cloud’s reply? Aylott should text and drive “like everyone else,” according to the complaint.

Aylott reported the incident to upper management, explaining the conflict of safety being posed by the conversation he had with Cloud. One week later, Cloud called Aylott into his office and fired him.

When Aylott asked why he was being fired, Cloud said he could fire him for any reason he wanted, according to the complaint. Furthermore, the complaint alleges that Cloud said Aylott was “too old to change [his] ways” by pointing out his refusal to text and drive.

Chief Operating Officer John F. Sullivan III refused to interfere with Cloud’s decision. However, Sullivan did write a reference letter, calling Aylott “a very hard worker, honest, reliable and was very loyal.”

Sullivan provided Land Line with the following statement:

“This case was brought by a disgruntled employee who is alleging that he was terminated for refusing to text and drive. After a preliminary investigation it appears the allegations in the complaint have no merit. The company has a strict cell phone use policy which includes the restriction of texting and driving. Due to the nature of our business and our commitment to safety this policy is monitored and enforced on a daily basis. The company is confident that when it gets its day in court the facts will prove that the company did nothing wrong.”

The lawsuit claims Commodity Trucking Acquisition violated whistleblower laws in addition to wrongful termination and age discrimination. Aylott is seeking compensation for general damages, punitive damages, attorney fees and “other proper relief.”

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