Judge rules against truckers in classification case

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jbhuntfedexA federal judge in a U.S. District Court in Massachusetts ruled against truck operators earlier this month in two separate but related lawsuits challenging their status as independent contractors and alleging their carriers violated state wage theft laws.

District Judge Richard G. Stearns issued two orders Feb. 5 saying the 1994 Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act preempts Massachusetts labor laws in these cases, granting a win to defendants J.B. Hunt and FedEx.

Truck operators who sued the two major carriers claimed they were wrongly classified as contractors and should have been classified as employees of the company. This “misclassification” allowed J.B. Hunt and FedEx to withhold wages and violate Massachusetts laws governing independent contractor agreements, the plaintiffs alleged.

The carriers, however, argued Massachusetts law was preempted by the federal FAAAA law, which allows federal statutes to supersede state laws if they could affect “prices, routes and services” of motor carriers and freight movement.

Stearns sided with the carriers, dismissing all three civil counts brought by the truck operators.

The ruling runs counter to several other similar cases decided last year, in which drivers prevailed in nearly all of the cases against their carriers. Most were in California, but one against FedEx Ground was decided in the Kansas Supreme Court.

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