The process to get settlement money to Prime Inc. drivers took a strange turn last week — a twist big enough to send the defendants to court demanding that the company straighten out confusion over miscommunication.
Many Prime drivers are eligible for a payout from a settlement over the groundbreaking Supreme Court decision last year in a driver classification suit filed against Prime. The issues of classification never were litigated to a conclusion because Prime settled with driver Domini Oliveira and other members of the suit’s class action for $28 million.
That led to Prime recently sending a note out to about 40,000 individuals on what they needed to do to receive a payout from the settlement. That was followed by a Prime employee sending out a note to fellow drivers saying it was all a scam.
“There is currently a scam happening with an email phishing attempt to gather our personal information claiming to be apart (sic) of a lawsuit,” the communication said, according to a motion by the plaintiffs’ attorney filed early last week. “Please do not click the link in the email. This is an attempt to snatch your personal info. Any and all lawsuit settlements would need to be sent by official mail out let (sic), not an email from a stranger.”
The problem is that none of it was true. In a prepared statement sent to the Springfield News Leader, the hometown newspaper of the Missouri city where Prime is based, the company’s general counsel Steve Crawford said corrective measures already had been taken.
“A Prime employee, acting in good faith, mistakenly suspected the email regarding the settlement was a phishing scam, and out of concern for the protection of our drivers — which is always paramount to Prime — sent a warning to the drivers,” Crawford said in the statement to the newspaper. “Prime has been the subject of daily phishing attacks and this particular email caused the employee legitimate concern. When Prime discovered the error, the same employee sent a correction to the entire fleet within the hour advising that the email regarding the settlement was legitimate.”
Crawford had not responded to an email request from FreightWaves by publication time.
What the plaintiffs had asked for in their request to the Federal District Court of Massachusetts court was far more extensive.
They demanded multiple communications to Prime drivers, including a note over the company’s app and its Qualcomm communications system clarifying that the note about the settlement was not a scam. They also demanded a letter be sent by Prime owner Robert Low, on company letterhead, offering an apology and telling drivers to disregard the message. That letter was to be published on the company’s website.
It was also requested that a hard copy of the settlement notice be sent to all members of the settlement class, which as noted earlier runs into the tens of thousands.
“The severity of the misinformation sent out to all New Prime drivers can only be remedied with swift and comprehensive action,” the plaintiffs’ court request said.
The remedies ordered by the court late last week were less stringent. Judge Patti B. Saras ordered that Prime was required to send out a clarifying note over the Prime app and the Qualcomm system clearing up the confusion. It was also ordered that a letter signed by a key official from the company — the title not specified by the judge — be posted on the company’s website, a requirement that was fulfilled by a link on the web page devoted to the settlement from Stan Auman, the company’s operations manager.
The judge also said Prime managers facing questions should direct those queries to the website about the lawsuit settlement.
The deadline for drivers and other members of the class to file for a claim under the settlement is Dec. 7. The period covered by the settlement is Oct. 2, 2012, through May 8 of this year. There is a second group of class members who had attended training in Missouri for New Prime earlier this year, between March 4 and May 8.
Although the issues of classification were not settled in the lawsuit, the unanimous Supreme Court verdict that stopped Prime from forcing Oliveira into arbitration is considered a significant decision in the issue of arbitration versus litigation to resolve disputes. The Oliveira case was ultimately merged for settlement processes into a suit against Prime filed by another driver, Rocky Haworth.