A truck driver has won a lawsuit against her former employer, after she was unjustly fired for refusing to drive unregistered and unsafe equipment on two occasions.
According to court documents obtained by LiveTrucking.com, the first incident occurred on September 28, 2015, when driver Jill Grass complained to her employer, Illinois-based Hartwig Transit Inc, about a trailer that was missing up-to-date inspection and registration materials.
A second incident occurred on October 31, 2015, when Grass reported a damaged wheel hub on a trailer. A text message from Grass to a company manager included a photo of the damage with the message, “2 bolts missing and quarter of plate gone,” and “I believe this is out of service and need fix before take it,”
On both occasions, she received written warnings from her company.
On November 1, 2015, the company suspended her from her driving duties in order to conduct an internal investigation into alleged misconduct.
On August 26, 2016, Grass was fired by the company following a meeting and vote from its safety board, chaired by company president Gerald Hartwig. The company claimed that her termination was due to disobeying orders and causing a slow down in work.
Bell later filed a complaint with the U.S. Depart of Labor for wrongful termination.
On March 31, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor concluded its investigation and ruled that Grass did not disobey orders and that any slow down in work “resulted from her safety concerns and request for assistance in the field.”
Her complaints to the company were protected under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), which protects drivers from retaliation for voicing complaints about safety violations.
According to the ruling, Hartwig Transit was ordered to immediately reinstate Grass’s position, pay her back wages of $21,753.24, $5,000 in damages for emotional distress, and an additional $10,000 in damages for retaliating against her complaints. The company was also ordered to pay more than $6,000 for her attorney fees.
“In this case, a truck driver was fired for reporting safety concerns and for refusing to violate a safety regulation. Hartwig’s retaliation is unacceptable and illegal. When retaliation occurs, it can have a chilling effect on drivers’ willingness to voice safety concerns which may impact their safety and that of others who share the highways with them,” said Paul Taylor of Trucker’s Justice Center, the law firm that represented Grass.
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