Trucking company ordered to pay $612,000 in back wages, attorney fees to whistleblowers

Government agency seeks court enforcement of order requiring company to reinstate 2 wrongfully terminated Ohio truck drivers.
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Nov 16, 2012

 

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to enforce a final decision and order issued to North Canton-based trucking company Star Air and owner Robert R. Custer for terminating two truck drivers in violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act's whistleblower provisions.

The company has been ordered to pay $612,205.

The Labor Department's Administrative Review Board issued a final decision to Star Air on Dec. 19, 2011, requiring the company to reinstate the two employees and pay $602,366, including back wages in the amount of $341,894 for one driver and $181,468 for the other, as well as $79,004 in attorney fees. On Jan. 18, 2012, the review board ordered Star Air to pay supplemental attorney fees of $9,839.

To date, Star Air has not taken any action to comply, prompting the department's suit, which has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division in Akron.

The department is represented by its Regional Office of the Solicitor in Cleveland.

"These drivers were fired for trying to protect themselves and the driving public," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "OSHA will continue to defend America's truck drivers who are retaliated against by unscrupulous employers when they refuse to drive while fatigued, ill, or in violation of truck weight or hours-of-service requirements."

The drivers were dismissed after one was stopped by West Virginia State Police and cited for hauling an excess load without a commercial driver's license; operating an overweight trailer; driving a commercial vehicle that did not have the name of the company, its home base and its U.S. Department of Transportation number displayed; and driving without a log book.

The driver who was cited told the other driver, and both refused to continue driving until these issues were resolved. Consequently, both were terminated.

Both drivers filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging that Star Air had discriminated against them in retaliation for activities protected by the STAA, and a Labor Department administrative law judge issued the order for reinstatement and back wages.

Under automatic review provisions, the judge's decision then was referred to and upheld by the Administrative Review Board, which issues final decisions for the secretary of labor in cases arising under a wide range of worker protection laws.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the STAA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. More information is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.