When not operated with care and the utmost concern for safety, large trucks on our interstates can be extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, far too many trucking companies require or pressure drivers to cut corners and violate the rules that protect the public. Drivers are asked to drive dangerous vehicles. To save time and money, trucking companies will put vehicles on the road that are overweight, have mechanical defects or are otherwise unsafe. Some in the industry will ask their drivers to violate the hours-of-service rules and drive when they are tired and prone to mistakes. Drivers who are brave enough to take a stand for safety by refusing to break the rules are frequently retaliated against.
This retaliation can take many forms. Companies may fire drivers, but frequently the retaliation is subtler. Instead of firing safe drivers, the company may limit the driver's dispatches or assign them less favorable routes. Such tactics are less direct, but can be extremely effective in either forcing the driver to comply with the company's unsafe practices in the future or quit because the working conditions are so intolerable.
Fortunately, drivers who are retaliated against are not without rights and recourse. Under the employee protection provisions of the STAA, 49 U.S.C.A. § 31105(a)(1), an employee may not be discharged or discriminated against when:
- The employee refused to operate a vehicle because,
- The operation violates a regulation, standard, or order of the United States related to commercial motor vehicle safety, health, or security; or
- The employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public because of the vehicle's hazardous safety or security condition 49 U.S.C.A. §31105(a)(1)(B)(i), (ii).
Congress enacted section 405 of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, 49 U.S.C. § 31105, to protect "employees in the commercial motor transportation industry from being discharged in retaliation for refusing to operate a motor vehicle that does not comply with applicable state and federal safety regulations or for filing complaints alleging such noncompliance." The protected activity includes making a complaint "related to a violation of a commercial motor vehicle safety regulation, standard, or order." § 31105(a)(1)(A). A "commercial motor vehicle" includes "any self-propelled-vehicle used on the highways in commerce principally to transport passengers or cargo" with a gross vehicle weight rating of ten thousand or more pounds. 49 U.S.C. App. § 2301(1).
A successful complainant under the Surface Transportation Act is entitled to compensatory damages, reinstatement, attorney fees and costs. Damages for emotional distress and punitive damages up to $250,000.00 are also recoverable under the act. Once litigation has ensued, it becomes impractical to reinstate a wrongfully terminated truck driver. Under such circumstances it is appropriate for the discharged driver to recover future lost wages. Non-monetary relief, such as expungement of any adverse information in personnel files are appropriate under the act.
We have significant experience representing truck drivers who have been wrongfully terminated. If you have been fired or otherwise retaliated against for refusing to participate in unsafe trucking industry practices contact us today.