P.A.M. Transport drivers receive partial victory in wage lawsuit
January 22, 2020
Thousands of drivers for P.A.M. Transport were awarded a partial victory in a wage lawsuit against the company. It will likely come down to a jury determining if truckers receive the rest.
On Jan. 17, a federal court in Arkansas granted drivers for Tontitown, Ark.-based P.A.M. Transport partial summary judgment in their wage lawsuit. Drivers are entitled to be paid minimum wage for all hours logged as “driving” or “on duty not driving,” according to the court order. The court also granted summary judgment on the claim that truckers should be paid for short breaks of 20 minutes or less, and that they be allowed to recoup Comdata and pay advance fees that resulted in drivers earning less than minimum wage.
However, the lawsuit will still proceed with other claims. The court denied summary judgment for claims that truckers must be paid minimum wage for 16 hours of every day on tour. Drivers also are not automatically entitled to damages stemming from alleged violations of last-payment rules. Also, the court did not decide whether P.A.M. Transport’s violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act were willful or a good-faith error.
P.A.M. Transport drivers sue for various wage violations
In December 2016, a class action lawsuit was filed against P.A.M. Transport on claims of violating federal and state minimum wage laws.
According to the complaint, newly hired drivers were required to attend courses that lasted about 10 hours each day. Drivers were employees of P.A.M. Transport during the multi-day orientation. The lawsuit claims the new employees did not receive a minimum wage equivalent for all hours worked during orientation.
Once completing orientation, drivers were assigned a solo or team designation. According to the complaint, drivers were required to remain over-the-road in or in the general proximity of their assigned truck for more than 24 consecutive hours. Allegedly, drivers were on duty “continually for days and weeks on end.”
Per Arkansas regulations, the maximum amount of time an employer may dock an employee who is on duty for more than 24 hours for time spent in a sleeper berth is eight hours per day. The remaining 16 hours is work time and must be paid, minus meal periods. Plaintiffs argue they are entitled to 16 hours of pay because they were required to do the following during that time:
- Drive the truck.
- Remain in the truck while the truck was moving so they could assist in transporting the cargo (team drivers).
- Wait for cargo to be loaded or unloaded while in the truck or its immediate vicinity.
- Fuel up the truck and perform routine maintenance.
- Remain in the vicinity of the truck to help protect P.A.M. Transport’s customers’ property.
- Remain inside the truck when stopped to log time in the sleeper berth and to help protect customer’s property.
Drivers also cite another Arkansas law that states travel that keeps an employee away from home overnight which is completed during regular working hours is work time and must be paid.
The lawsuit also alleges unlawful Comdata card fees. P.A.M. Transport drivers were paid wages via a Comdata card. According to the complaint, P.A.M. Transport received interest on the money left in its accounts until the drivers actually used the Comdata card. Furthermore, a fee was charged for checking balances on an ATM, to access the money and to transfer earnings to a bank account. Consequently, those deductions led to wages less than minimum wage.
P.A.M. Transport drivers claim other unlawful deductions, including $25 a week until $500 was accumulated in an escrow account. The company also charged a $10 fee for advances up to $75. Additionally, $45 was deducted each week for about six weeks for a two-week CDL school drivers attended before beginning orientation. These deductions also resulted in wages that were less than minimum wage.
Regarding the $500 escrow account, P.A.M. Transport agreed to pay drivers interest on the $500 on a quarterly basis at an annual rate of 8%. Drivers accuse the company of not honoring that agreement.
Lastly, drivers claim unlawful deductions of final paychecks. More specifically, a driver’s last paycheck can face deductions for failure to turn in all trip envelopes and bills of lading, damage to vehicle or cargo, failure to meet one-year employment commitment and incurred expenses due to termination (e.g., out-of-route miles, towing, etc.). According to the lawsuit, none of those deductions are permitted to be taken from wages at the time of discharge under Arkansas law.
P.A.M. Transport drivers prevail on some claims
After moving for summary judgment, the federal court agreed with some of the drivers’ claims while pushing the other claims to further proceedings.
Regarding claims that drivers should accrue minimum wage for all hours logged as “driving” or “on duty not driving,” the court agreed. P.A.M. Transport had argued the accuracy of the drivers’ logs. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, it is up to the employer to preserve records of wages. Therefore, employees should not be penalized for a lack of records. Accordingly, claims of inaccuracy could not be substantiated.
Plaintiffs will also get paid for breaks of 20 minutes or less. Per Department of Labor regulations, “rest periods of short duration, running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes must be counted as hours worked.” However, pay deductions were automatic for “off duty periods,” even if it fell below the 20-minute threshold.
Furthermore, the court awarded summary judgment for the $10 advance fee. The court found the practice a violation of state law that allows an advance fee of no more than a 10% annual rate.
However, summary judgment for claims that P.A.M. Transport owes drivers wages for 16 of 24 hours while on a tour of duty was denied.
The court turns to statements made by a P.A.M. Transport representative explaining a trucker is responsible for off-duty tasks if something were to occur. Furthermore, drivers are not tethered to their trucks so long as they download an app that gives them assignment notifications while away. The court found those facts sufficient to establish genuine dispute for trial.
The court also could not consider P.A.M. Transport’s violations of federal wage law as “willing.” Despite being settling a similar lawsuit for $3 million, plaintiffs argue the company should have known better. However, P.A.M. Transport points out they conducted a thorough review and discovered annual salaries of about $43,500. Week-by-week, pay may have been short minimum wage. With those facts in dispute, they will be heard in further proceedings.
From here, claims that were denied summary judgment will proceed. Among the several options ahead, P.A.M. Transport could end up settling or taking the case to a jury trial.