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Highway Robbery: Latest Trucker Misclassification Class Action Ruling Goes Workers’ Way

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A federal judge in New Jersey has given the green light to a class action lawsuit alleging employee misclassification. The lawsuit, brought by eight National Freight Inc. (NFI) delivery truck drivers, accuses the logistics company of misclassifying drivers as independent contractors despite maintaining complete control over the drivers’ operations.

NFI filed a motion to dismiss, but that motion was denied last week:

From 2009 to 2014, drivers in the lawsuit made deliveries to Trader Joe’s for NFI throughout Massachusetts. Drivers would pick up loads at NFI’s warehouse in Nazareth, Pa., and deliver to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Virginia. Although the drivers were hired as independent contractors, they were allegedly subjected to the following:

• Must lease their trucks to NFI;
• Only deliver for NFI, i.e. could not pick up loads for another company;
• Were paid for fewer miles than driven each day;
• Work full-time for six days a week;
• Only drive NFI’s established routes, not allowed to deviate;
• Pick up loads outside set routes without pay;
• Must comply with NFI’s written and unwritten policies;
• Supervision by NFI managers;
• Required to use NFI’s “scanning/radio devices”; and
• Insurance requirements.

Trucker misclassification lawsuits have been going the drivers’ way of late. Most recently, Fedex Ground paid out $240 million in back pay and penalties across 20 states. The difference between an employee and an independent contractor is clearly defined by law in the state of Massachusetts, according to Land Line Magazine:

Massachusetts law has a three-prong test to determine who is considered an independent contractor: individual is free from control and direction; service is performed outside the usual course of employer’s business; and individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade.

NFI tried to claim that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA), which prohibits states from enacting laws that could affect a motor carrier’s price, route, or service, supersedes Massachusetts state law. The federal judge, however, was unconvinced:

Although precedent exists supporting NFI’s claim, the judge pointed out the most recent ruling in the federal court system only preempts one of three prongs – performing outside usual course of business – in the Massachusetts law. Therefore, NFI still has to address the issues of control and drivers engaging in an independently established trade. Consequently, the motion to dismiss based on FAAAA law was denied.


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