Swift Transportation Co. is appealing a federal district court ruling that said the giant carrier improperly classified five of its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.
Swift has asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the January decision.
Additionally, Senior U.S. District Court Judge John W. Sedwick has granted a motion by Phoenix-based Swift to stay the district court’s ruling pending the 9th Circuit Court’s review of the case.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Dan Getman has filed a motion with the appeals court to expedite the appeal. The motion is still pending.
“Effectively, the drivers have already won the case,” Getman told Trucks.com.
Swift is now trying to delay in order to keep other drivers from finding out about the case and minimize its liability, he said.
Getman has filed a motion to renew the plaintiff’s collective action and has moved for class certification of a nationwide group of lease operators. Those motions are still pending.
There may be thousands of drivers – dating back to 2006 or 2007 – that have allegedly been misclassified by Swift, Getman said.
Swift employs more than 16,000 drivers and is the largest common carrier in the U.S.
Given the federal judge’s findings, now is the time to contact more drivers to ensure they are “not lost when it comes time to assert their claims,” Getman said.
“We are hoping to change the district court’s mind and require Swift to give us the names of the drivers,” he said. “So far, Swift has refused and is holding that information privately so that drivers don’t find out that they have a claim against the carrier.”
Swift did not respond to a Trucks.com request for comment about the case.
The January ruling that Swift misclassified lease operators was a blow for the company.
The plaintiffs claimed in the case that because of the misclassification Swift failed to pay them all the wages required by federal and state wage and hour laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The drivers considered themselves to be employees because Swift controlled every aspect of their work schedules – from where and how the plaintiffs delivered freight to which routes the truckers had to use.
Swift also controlled the equipment the truckers used, including the maintenance and condition of the trucks, the lawsuit said.
Sedwick ruled that the contractor agreements the drivers signed were employment contracts, making them employees.
Upon hire, the plaintiffs were forced to sign employment and lease contracts before going to work for the trucking giant.
“Swift has profited from calling drivers independent contractors while treating them as employees,” Getman said. “This has become a common practice for trucking companies that misclassify its drivers to undercut their competition in the industry that properly classifies its drivers and pays them legitimately.”
The case has bounced around in the courts for more than eight years after it was originally filed in U.S. District Court in New York in 2009. However, Swift filed a petition to have the case transferred to the U.S. District Court in Arizona, near the trucking company’s headquarters in Phoenix. A judge granted the move.
“We would like to push this case forward to its conclusion as quickly as possible,” Getman said. “Swift’s interest in this case is to avoid paying drivers and slowing down the case as much as possible.”