Maine Employee Rights Group Maine Employee Rights Group
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    - J.W., East Machias.

Example of a whistleblower case we handled where a trucker reported unsafe truck conditions to his employer and was terminated shortly thereafter

Our client was a Class A certified truck driver for a shipping company. He began work as a probationary employee, with a 30-day period of probation, after which point he would have been eligible to become a member of the Teamsters Union and therefore would have gained more job security. During the course of our client’s employment, he would conduct a pre-trip inspection of each vehicle he was assigned to drive and report any maintenance or safety issues to his employer on a Daily Vehicle Inspection Report. Our client found many safety issues with the trucks he was assigned to drive, and dutifully reported these by indicating his concerns in his Daily Vehicle Inspection Reports.

Then, just days before his 30-day probationary period was to end and he would have been eligible to become a member of the Teamsters Union, the shipping company decided that it would extend our client’s period of probation another 30 days, doubling his period of probation and delaying any job security he could have gained through Union membership. Then the shipping company terminated our client’s employment before he completed his extended period of probation and before the company would have to have “just cause” to fire him under the shipping company’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with Union.

Our firm pursued the case on the client’s behalf and argued that he had engaged in protected activity under Maine’s Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA) and the federal Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), which applies to truckers in particular, when he reported to his employer in his mandatory Daily Vehicle Inspection Reports that certain aspects of the trucks he was assigned to drive were unsafe. Once he reported unsafe truck conditions on his Daily Vehicle Inspection Reports, it was the shipping company’s responsibility to inspect those trucks and pay for any needed repairs.

This case presented several interesting legal issues. One involved the fact that our client – after his probation was extended and he, rightly, feared for his job – recorded several conversations with his managers about why his probation was extended and whether that had to do with his reporting issues with the conditions of the trucks. During the course of litigating the case, the Maine Employee Rights Group obtained a Court order permitting us to withhold the audio tapes until after the depositions of the relevant witnesses.

Another legal issue our firm successfully debated was whether our client’s reports about the unsafe conditions of the trucks were, in fact, “protected activity” under the MWPA and STAA. The shipping company argued that, because our client had to submit mandatory Daily Vehicle Inspection Reports as part of his job, any truck safety issues he raised in those reports did not make him a “whistleblower.” The attorneys of the Maine Employee Rights Group successfully argued that by reporting truck safety issues to his employer, even if done so as part of his job, our client had engaged in “protected activity” and was protected by the MWPA and STAA. Therefore, the shipping company could not retaliate against our client by firing him for making those reports and requiring the company to pay for needed repairs.

Ultimately, after filing this case with the Maine Human Rights Commission and then filing and beginning to litigate the case in Federal Court, this case was resolved to the client’s satisfaction through private settlement.