New Prime Inc., part of mega fleet Prime Inc., has been ordered by the Labor Department to pay a former driver $100,000 in back wages and damages after the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration deemed it submitted damaging information about the driver in retaliation.
According to an OSHA announcement released this week, the Springfield, Mo.-based fleet violated provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act when it submitted “damaging and misleading information about [the driver’s] employment” to the Drive-A-Check Report pre-employment and drug testing screening service.
The OSHA announcement says the driver told the carrier in October 2008 that he had hurt his back on the job and could not drive because he was taking prescription medicine for it. By July 2009, the driver, whose name OSHA did not release, had recovered and was cleared by his doctor to return to work, OSHA says.
He sought employment elsewhere, however, and opted not to return to Prime. The driver then learned, OSHA said, that New Prime submitted bad information on his employment history to DAC. He then filed a complaint with OSHA, which spurred the investigation.
Prime spokesman Clayton Brown says the carrier has appealed the ruling. “Prime’s policy is to not comment on pending litigation. Prime is appealing this investigative finding and litigation will begin shortly. The next step is to have a trial on the merits.”
The breakdown of the $100,000 is: $41,373 for lost wages, with interest, between July 1, 2009, and April 1, 2010; $40,000 in compensatory damages for pain, suffering, emotional distress and loss of home and property; and $20,000 in punitive damages “in light of the company’s reckless and callous disregard for the worker’s rights under the STAA,” according to OSHA’s announcement.
The carrier also must expunge the driver’s employment and DAC Report records of the information they submitted.
STAA protects drivers from retaliatory action by carriers if they refuse to drive due to safety concerns.
“Blacklisting an employee and sabotaging a worker’s career is unacceptable. It can have a dangerous ripple effect if employees are compelled to drive when unwell or under medication because they are afraid they will lose their livelihood,” said Robert Kulick, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York, whose offices conducted the investigation. “OSHA will not tolerate employers retaliating against its employees for reporting violations, including forcing employees to operate commercial motor vehicles when doing so would be unsafe for the driver and the public.”