This lawsuit is brought as a nationwide class and collective action on behalf of truckers who lease trucks from Interstate Equipment Leasing Co., Inc. and are treated as “owner operators” by Swift Transportation Co. The lawsuit claims Swift and IEL misclassify drivers as independent contractors and unlawfully pressure drivers to continue driving for Swift under threat of serious financial harm if drivers quit in violation of the federal Forced Labor Statutes. Plaintiffs seek unpaid wages, liquidated (double) damages, damages for unlawful deductions, costs and attorneys’ fees as well as declaratory relief under the FLSA and state wage laws. More than 900 drivers have joined the case so far.
The Honorable U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick of the District of Alaska, sitting in Arizona, is presiding over the case. Swift has spent years trying to send the case to arbitration while Plaintiffs have argued to keep it in Arizona federal court. On January 6, 2017, Judge Sedwick decided this issue and ruled that, “contract drivers who obtained their trucks through a lease with IEL, such as Plaintiffs, had contracts for employment.” By ruling that drivers met the legal test for “employment,” the Court has ruled on critical issues in favor of the drivers, including that the case will remain in court. The Court’s ruling means that Swift will not be able to claim it correctly classified drivers as independent contractors. Swift has filed an appeal, not challenging the correctness of Judge Sedwick’s finding that drivers are employees, but instead arguing that Judge Sedwick erred by considering the Lease as well as the Contractor Agreement in deciding not to send the case to arbitration.
The case is currently stayed (on hold) pending a decision by the Ninth Circuit on Swift’s appeal, however Judge Sedwick directed Swift to provide Plaintiffs’ counsel with the names and addresses of all possible class members in the case “to help preserve Plaintiffs’ ability to reach potential witnesses and class members in the event a class is ultimately certified after the appeal.”