A Washington state district judge has denied a request by truckload carrier Western Express to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a former employee who has accused the company of failing to pay him for overtime wages as well as for meal and rest breaks.
Richard Sanders, who lives in Washington and drove for the Nashville, Tennessee-based carrier from December 2019 to August 2020, alleged in a complaint filed in September that Western Express failed to pay him and other drivers the minimum wage under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and failed to pay rest breaks and wages under Washington law, in violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
In seeking to dismiss the class action/collective action case, Western Express contended, among other things, that Sanders’ overtime wages claim should be dismissed because he did not identify a specific workweek in which he worked more than 40 hours in one week and was not paid overtime.
But in an order issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian rejected that contention, pointing out that Sanders alleges in his complaint that in his “final week” of working for Western Express, he drove over 900 miles from Tulare, California, to Lacey, Washington, but was not paid.
Western Express also argued that Sanders’ claim that he and others were entitled to be paid for a full 24 hours as on-duty time fails “because guidance from the [Department of Labor’s] Wage and Hour Division clearly states that the time drivers are relieved of all duties — and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth — is nonworking time that is not compensable,” the carrier stated.
On this point, Bastian pointed out that, even assuming the Labor Department’s guidance applied in this case, “dismissal of the claim would be inappropriate because factual inquiry into whether plaintiff and his class were ‘on duty’ during time spent in their sleeper berth or during meal breaks is necessary,” his ruling stated. “Dismissal of this claim at this early stage of the case is inappropriate.”
Western Express also asserted that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration determined in November that Washington’s meal and rest-break rules were preempted by federal law, thus taking away Sanders’ complaint regarding unpaid rest breaks and wages.
Bastian did not rule on the merits of this contention, however, but denied the carrier’s motion on this point because it was based on information outside the plaintiff’s complaint.
In addition to denying the company’s motion to dismiss the case, Bastian earlier this week rejected Western Express’ motion to change the venue from Washington to its headquarters state of Tennessee.
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