Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc.
Romero, a truck driver employed by Watkins, an interstate trucking business, made deliveries only to retail stores in California. To complete paperwork and training, Romero periodically logged in to an online portal that required a unique employee identification number and password. Romero’s unique user account completed a set of “Associate Acknowledgements,” through which he clicked “I Agree,” signifying that he read and agreed to the Arbitration Policy, a stand-alone agreement that purports to waive any right to bring or participate in a class action; it states that the agreement is “governed by the Federal Arbitration Act,” and purports to waive "any provision of the FAA which would otherwise exclude [the agreement] from its coverage.” However, if "this [agreement] and/or its Waiver Provisions are not subject to and governed by the FAA, then the laws of the State of Nevada . . . will be the applicable state law.” The Arbitration Policy was not a condition of employment. Romero did not opt-out. In August 2019, Watkins announced it would cease operations. Romero and other employees were laid off.Romero filed a putative class action under the California and federal WARN Acts, 29 U.S.C. 2101, which require advance notice to employees before being laid off. The district court granted a motion to compel arbitration. The NInth Circuit affirmed, while noting that the Federal FAA exemption of employment contracts for transportation workers applies and cannot be waived by private contract. View "Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc." on Justia Law
Wheeler v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.
After plaintiff, who was employed by Hulcher Services, lost several fingers at work in an accident at the railyard, he filed suit against Norfolk, the railyard owner, under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Norfolk, concluding that plaintiff failed to show that he was an employee of Norfolk and thus he could not recover under FELA. The court explained that plaintiff failed to show that Norfolk controlled the performance of his work or retained the right to do so. View "Wheeler v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law
Richardson v. BNSF Railway Co.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of BNSF in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging constructive discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) under Nebraska law. The court concluded that the Railway Labor Act (RLA) divested the district court of subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's constructive discharge claim and thus the claim was properly dismissed.However, the court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the IIED claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because that claim can be resolved interpreting the collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, the district court did have subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. Nevertheless, the court concluded that dismissal was appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6) because the complaint failed to state a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress under Nebraska law no matter what the collective bargaining agreement says. In this case, plaintiff alleged that BNSF or its employees disciplined and fired him without cause and berated him with expletive laced language and threats of physical violence. The court explained that it is unnecessary to interpret the collective bargaining agreement to conclude that these allegations do not support a reasonable inference of liability. Rather, plaintiff's allegations of discipline and termination without cause are insufficient to generate a reasonable inference of liability because discipline and termination without cause are not so outrageous that they give rise to a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Nebraska law. View "Richardson v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law
Saxon v. Southwest Airlines Co.
As a Chicago Midway International Airport ramp supervisor, Saxon supervises, trains, and assists a team of ramp agents—Southwest employees who physically load and unload planes. Ostensibly her job is purely supervisory but Saxon and other ramp supervisors frequently fill in as ramp agents. The ramp agents are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Supervisors are excluded and agree annually as part of their contract of employment—not separately—to arbitrate wage disputes. Believing that Southwest failed to pay ramp supervisors for overtime work, Saxon filed a putative collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201–219. Southwest moved to dismiss or stay the suit pending arbitration (Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 3).The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, citing the FAA exemption for “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The last category refers not to all contracts of employment, but only to those belonging to “transportation workers.” The act of loading cargo onto a vehicle to be transported interstate is commerce, as that term was understood at the time of the FAA’s 1925 enactment. Airplane cargo loaders, as a class, are engaged in that commerce, as seamen and railroad employees were; Saxon and the ramp supervisors are members of that class. View "Saxon v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law
Betancourt v. Transportation Brokerage Specialists, Inc.
Plaintiff worked as a delivery driver for TBS, a “last-mile” delivery company whose primary client was Amazon.com. At the start of his employment, he signed an At-Will Employment, Non-Disclosure, Non-Solicitation, Class-Action Waiver and Arbitration Agreement. Plaintiff filed suit asserting violations of the Labor Code, California’s Unfair Competition Law, and the Private Attorneys General Act, unlawful retaliation, and wrongful termination. The trial court denied TBS’s motion to compel the plaintiff to arbitrate his individual claims and to dismiss his class claims. The court found that the plaintiff was exempt from Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. 1, FAA) coverage because he was a transportation worker engaged in interstate commerce and that the class action waiver was unenforceable, rendering the arbitration agreement unenforceable.The court of appeal affirmed that the plaintiff is exempt from FAA coverage and that the class action waiver is unenforceable under California law. The court reversed the order denying the motion to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s individual claims; the trial court improperly found the arbitration agreement unenforceable in its entirety rather than severing the class action waiver provision from the remainder of the employment agreement and considering the validity of the arbitration provision with respect to the individual claims for unlawful retaliation and wrongful termination. View "Betancourt v. Transportation Brokerage Specialists, Inc." on Justia Law
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen GCA UP v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
In 2020 Union Pacific Railroad announced a change to its employee attendance policy. Several regional branches of the union opposed the change and sought an order under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 151a (RLA), requiring Union Pacific to submit the change to collective bargaining. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction; the claim belonged in arbitration before the National Railroad Adjustment Board.The Seventh Circuit affirmed and granted Union Pacific’s motion for sanctions under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38 for the frivolous appeal. For the second time in three years, the Brotherhood has pressed a position squarely foreclosed by settled law. The union’s challenge to the revised policy amounted to a “minor dispute” subject to mandatory arbitration under the RLA. Given the parties’ course of dealing over workplace attendance requirements, there was a clear pattern and practice of Union Pacific modifying its policies many times over many years without subjecting changes to collective bargaining, which provided the railroad with a nonfrivolous justification to unilaterally modify its attendance policy. That reality made this dispute a minor one subject to resolution through mandatory arbitration. View "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen GCA UP v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
The Ninth Circuit denied petitions for review of the FMCSA's determination that federal law preempted California’s meal and rest break rules (MRB rules), as applied to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles who are subject to the FMCSA's own rest break regulations.The panel held that the agency's decision reflects a permissible interpretation of the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 and is not arbitrary or capricious. Applying Chevron deference to the agency's interpretation of the statute and the phrase "on commercial motor vehicle safety," the panel held that even assuming petitioners identified a potential ambiguity in the statute, the agency's reading was a permissible one. In this case, the FMCSA reasonably determined that a State law "on commercial motor vehicle safety" is one that "imposes requirements in an area of regulation that is already addressed by a regulation promulgated under [section] 31136." Furthermore, the FMCSA's 2018 preemption decision also reasonably relied on Congress's stated interest in uniformity of regulation.The panel concluded that the FMCSA permissibly determined that California's MRB rules were State regulations "on commercial motor vehicle safety," so that they were within the agency's preemption authority. The panel also concluded that the FMCSA faithfully interpreted California law in finding that California's rules were "additional to or more stringent than" federal regulations. Finally, the panel concluded that the agency did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in finding that enforcement of the MRB rules "would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce." View "International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration" on Justia Law
Ali v. Daylight Transport, LLC
Daylight, an expedited less-than-truckload carrier, contracts with independent truck drivers. Daylight’s California drivers only provided services within California. The plaintiffs each entered into an “Independent Contractor Service Agreement” before beginning to drive for Daylight and regularly signed materially identical contract extensions while driving for Daylight. All of those Agreements contained an identical arbitration provision. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action, requesting relief from Daylight’s “unlawful misclassification of former and current Daylight delivery drivers as ‘Independent Contractors,’ ” and alleging violations of Labor Code and wage order provisions, and the law against unfair competition.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Daylight’s motion to compel arbitration, applying California law and finding the agreement procedurally and substantively unconscionable, and that severance of the unconscionable terms is not possible. Daylight was in a superior bargaining position and presented the contracts on a take it or leave it basis. The Agreement’s 120-day limitations period is substantially shorter than the statutory limits. The Agreement permits Daylight to seek a provisional judicial remedy but precludes plaintiffs from equivalent access and requires that the parties split the cost of arbitration, a cost greater than litigation filing fees. Because Daylight had waived its argument, the court did not address preemption under the Federal Arbitration Act, which“provides a limited exemption from FAA coverage to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce (9 U.S.C. 1). View "Ali v. Daylight Transport, LLC" on Justia Law
Tompkins v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co.
Plaintiff, a carman for Metro-North, filed suit under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, alleging unlawful retaliation for his refusal to walk outdoors to another building in the railyard in allegedly unsafe winter conditions or, in the alternative, for his reporting those unsafe conditions to a foreman.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Metro-North's motion for summary judgment, holding that the district court did not commit reversible error. The court adopted the "reasonableness" definition in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act context, which means that a "reasonable belief contains both subjective and objective components," and applied it in the FRSA context. The court agreed with Metro-North and the district court that plaintiff has not identified a genuine dispute of material fact over whether the walkways were safe or over the reasonableness of his own assessment. In this case, plaintiff did not submit any specific evidence to support his generalized contention that the walkways at the railyard were unsafe, other than to assert that other employees slipped as they walked. The court concluded that plaintiff's subjective assessment alone cannot create a genuine issue of material fact.The court agreed with the Seventh and Eighth Circuits and held that some evidence of retaliatory intent is a necessary component of an FRSA claim. The court considered the Eighth Circuit's Gunderson factors and concluded that plaintiff's protected activity was not a contributing factor in his discharge. Finally, the court considered plaintiff's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit. View "Tompkins v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co." on Justia Law
People v. Superior Court (Cal Cartage Transportation Express, LLC)
The Court of Appeal held that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA) does not preempt application of California's ABC test, originally set forth in Dynamex Operations W. v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, and eventually codified by Assembly Bill 2257 (AB 2257), to determine whether a federally licensed interstate motor carrier has correctly classified its truck drivers as independent contractors.The court held that defendants have not demonstrated, as they must under People ex rel. Harris v. Pac Anchor Transportation, Inc. (2014) 59 Cal.4th 772, 785-87, that application of the ABC test prohibits motor carriers from using independent contractors or otherwise directly affects motor carriers' prices, routes, or services. Furthermore, nothing in Pac Anchor nor the FAAAA's legislative history suggests Congress intended to preempt a worker-classification test applicable to all employers in the state. The court granted a peremptory writ of mandate directing respondent court to vacate its order granting in part defendants' motion in limine, and enter a new order denying that motion because the statutory amendments implemented by AB 2257 are not preempted by the FAAAA. View "People v. Superior Court (Cal Cartage Transportation Express, LLC)" on Justia Law