Class-action suit ruling favors FedEx Ground

Jill Dunn | December 19, 2010

The federal judge overseeing drivers’ multi-district class-action suit against FedEx Ground has ruled mostly in favor of the company in its stand that its drivers are contractors.

On Dec. 13, Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana sided mostly with the Memphis-based company. On Aug. 11, Miller had granted FedEx’s motion for summary judgment in concluding that Kansas drivers are contractors and not employees.

At that time, he had ordered the suit’s parties from the remaining 28 states to file supplementary briefs addressing why the outcome in their cases should be the same as or different from Kansas.

Maury Lane, FedEx corporate communications director, said the company is pleased with the ruling. “The court found that the plaintiffs are independent contractors as a matter of law in 20 of the 28 remaining certified class cases,” Lane said. “In the other eight remaining certified cases, the court ruled in favor of FedEx Ground on some of the claims; in three of these cases the court ruled against FedEx Ground on at least one claim.”

Plaintiff attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Miller wrote the most important factor considered in common law and in restatement tests in determining if someone is an employee is how much the person can control their work. States regard companies’ right to discharge at will as the second most important factor.

FedEx can refuse to renew a contract or cancel a contract for breach. But it does not have the ability to discharge these drivers at will, as in an employee-employer relationship.

Miller stated his ruling would be unlikely to preclude injured drivers from seeking liability or worker’s compensation from the company. “Such personal injury cases would surely involve the review of much extrinsic and individualized evidence of a particular driver’s relationship with FedEx,” the judge wrote.

Maine-based law firm of Lichten & Liss-Riordan are representing drivers against FedEx Ground and Home Delivery in states not listed in the Dec. 13 lawsuit but are not attorneys in the consolidated case. The plaintiffs charge FedEx misclassified its drivers as independent contractors.

That firm said the lead plaintiffs’ counsel in the Dec. 13 ruling plan to appeal.

The attorneys said the Dec. 13 decision does not effect their cases filed in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont. These cases have been returned to their home courts for further proceedings. They added they are filing a new case on behalf of FedEx drivers in Maine, seeking overtime and damages due to alleged their misclassification as independent contractors.   

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