Oliveira still has long road ahead in case against New Prime

March 19, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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Back in January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of truck driver Dominic Oliveira, determining that all transportation workers are exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act. The ruling came almost four years after Oliveira filed a class action lawsuit against New Prime in 2015, alleging the trucking company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.

While the ruling was a win for Oliveira and all truckers who want to avoid being forced into arbitration, it was just one step in Oliveira’s case against New Prime, which is based out of Springfield, Mo.

Now that Prime can’t compel arbitration, the lawsuit moves back to U.S. District Court in Massachusetts. A status conference hearing was held on Feb. 26, and the parties filed a joint status report on March 5.

A resolution to Oliveira’s case could still be more than a year away. Discovery relating to the case must be completed by Jan. 31, 2020.

Oliveira entered New Prime’s truck driver apprenticeship program in 2013.

According to Oliveira’s lawsuit, Success Leasing, which is a separate company from New Prime but located in the same building, leased Oliveira a truck and then directed him to New Prime’s company store to purchase fuel and equipment for about $5,000.

Oliveira said Success Leasing presented him employment paperwork labeled as a Prime Independent Contractor Operating Agreement.

“Oliveira was not permitted to negotiate this agreement, and he ‘felt pressure’ to sign it quickly, because New Prime told him it already had a load waiting for him,” Oliveira’s attorneys wrote in their response brief to the Supreme Court.

According to Oliveira’s claims, New Prime paid Oliveira less than minimum wage, and deductions for fuel and lease payments on the truck occasionally left him owing money at the end of the pay period.

“Literally, there were some weeks when Dominic had to pay New Prime for the privilege of driving for the company,” said Jennifer Bennett, an attorney for Oliveira.

In 2015, Oliveira filed a class action lawsuit against New Prime, alleging that the company violated wage laws and misclassified him, as well as others, as independent contractors. New Prime moved to force arbitration, citing an arbitration contract that all of their drivers are required to sign.

For the next several years, the focus turned to proving that truck drivers, including independent contractors, were exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act.

When the Supreme Court sided with Oliveira, it allowed him and his attorneys to resume the wage case against New Prime.

Bennett told Land Line that Oliveira, who continues to work as a truck driver for a different company, deserves credit for seeing this case through to the end.

“He feels really strongly that it’s important to see change,” she said. “He was and is willing to make a whole bunch of sacrifices to make that happen. I wish I knew what gave a person that kind of faith and courage. But he saw what was going on. He got really angry about it, and really wanted to fix it not just for himself but for other people. He’s been willing to fight to make that happen even though it has a lot of personal costs for him.”

Oliveira said his main goal is to prevent truck drivers from being paid an unfair wage in the future.

“It’s been a long road, and we still have a long road ahead. It’s all for the benefit of the drivers,” he said. “We all love money, but, honestly, it’s more about the principle than anything.”

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, staff writer, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.

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