7 years, 6 figures: Driver suit against Knight settled for small sum


A class-action lawsuit filed in November 2016 against what was then Knight Transportation has been settled for just $400,000, with a payout of less than $130 per plaintiff.
The lead plaintiff is driver Robert Martinez, but the class action brought in drivers who worked for Knight — now Knight-Swift — and lived in Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Colorado but who drove for Knight in California from Sept. 30, 2012, until March 27 earlier this year, when the settlement was reached.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. An attempt by Arizona-based Knight to have the venue changed ultimately was rejected.
The Martinez suit was filed in California, according to a Knight (NYSE: KNX) filing from 2017, because the focus of the suit was a set of California regulations. In his suit, Martinez said Knight had not provided meal breaks required by California law; had not paid him or other drivers for “non-productive work and rest breaks”; had not paid “rest break premiums”; had not provided accurate wage statements; had not paid termination pay; and had engaged in “unfair business practices.”
In that filing, Knight said it was “dubious whether [Martinez] can even bring such claims” given that he was not a California resident. The company also argued questioned whether if Martinez could bring a claim in California. The company also questioned “which law would apply” if Martinez could bring a claim in California. But Judge Dale Drozd disagreed back in 2017.
Drozd was not the judge who approved the settlement. That task was handled by Judge Sheila Oberto.
After deducting other costs, including attorneys’ fees, the payout per recipient is expected to be $127.61, according to the court document on the settlement filed Tuesday. Martinez receives an additional $10,000. The settlement document reviewed its attempts to reach the 5,648 drivers who were seen as possibly eligible for a payout. But as of Aug. 16, according to the document, the company handling the claims had received back 899 claim forms, with 814 deemed valid.
Attorneys who pursued the litigation for seven years do not appear to have done much better. Attorneys’ fees in the case were set at up to $100,000 and up to $20,000 for litigation costs.
The ruling comes as California’s rest break rules are again gripped with uncertainty. After a 2018 ruling by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that the state’s meal and rest break rules were preempted by federal law, FMCSA recently opened the door to granting states more leeway.
The California rules require a 30-minute meal break if the number of hours worked in a day exceeds five. A 10-hour shift brings another 30-minute meal break. Each four hours of work also earns the driver a 10-minute rest period.
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