10/18/07

Judge rules for Teamsters, against FedEx

An Indiana federal judge ruled Tuesday that lawsuits filed by former and current drivers in 36 states against FedEx Ground, a subsidiary of shipping giant FedEx Corp., qualify as a class action, according to an attorney for the drivers.

Judge Robert Miller of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana, granted class certification to approximately 14,000 current and 10,000 former drivers for the company who claim that Memphis-based FedEx illegally classifies drivers as independent contractors.

FedEx indicated that it will appeal the decision.

As independent contractors, drivers are not entitled to overtime, vacation pay, expense reimbursements or medical benefits. FedEx also does not have to pay Social Security or worker’s compensation taxes, but drivers must pay for their own truck repairs and gasoline.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuits claim that FedEx’s strict control over work routes, uniform, delivery procedures and behavioral standards, as well as fines for those who buck those standards, in effect makes them employees and thus allows them to unionize. By granting class certification, Miller allows the plaintiffs from the various lawsuits to have their claims heard as a single lawsuit.

What will happen next is lawyers will file supplemental statements to ensure that the claims are similar, said Lynn Rossman Faris of Leonard Carder Law Firm. Faris said that she expects to file those statements on Nov. 15.

Faris also said she expects little difficulty in moving forward with the class action, because there isn’t any difference between those claims and the Kansas case Miller used as the basis his ruling, she said.

“The claims, in the other cases, are indistinguishable,” Faris said.

As a remedy, FedEx could try to appeal the decision and have it reviewed by a higher court. In fact, the company plans to appeal the decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, said Sandra Munoz, a spokeswoman for FedEx. She declined to speculate on other options if the circuit court refuses to hear the appeal.

Galen Munroe, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is seeking to unionize the drivers, declined to comment on the case at this time.

But Faris said she is confident the drivers will be allowed to pursue the class action, even if the Seventh Circuit agrees to hear FedEx’s appeal.

“This is a very thoughtful and careful opinion,” Faris said. “We think it is very well-grounded and will be affirmed.”

In the meantime, lawyers will also notify drivers who can take part in the lawsuit of their options, and will allow those who want to opt out to do so. Once the deadline for opting out passes, if the case is allowed to go forward, the suit will either go to trial or be settled out of court.

(news.medill.northwestern.edu)

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