Court orders Labor Department to reconsider fired truck driver’s retaliation claim

A federal appeals court ordered the U.S. Secretary of Labor to reconsider the department’s rejection of a case in which a truck driver claimed he was fired for taking rest breaks.

Roderick Carter worked as a truck driver for CPC Logistics Inc., which provides transportation services for corporate customers. Mr. Carter said he was fired after he took rest breaks during his routes when he was too tired to continue driving and notified his supervisors about the breaks, according to documents in Roderick A. Carter v. CPC Logistics Inc.; CPC Medical Products L.L.C.; Hospira Fleet Services L.L.C.; Department of Labor, Administrative Review Board.

Mr. Carter filed a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging that CPC Logistics violated the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 by terminating him from his job as a truck driver for engaging in the protected activity of taking breaks when he became too tired to safely drive. The statute prohibits an employer from discharging an employee for refusing to operate a vehicle for safety, health or security reasons.

An OSHA area director dismissed his complaint, and Mr. Carter requested a hearing before an administrative law judge of the Department of Labor. The judge dismissed his complaint after finding that Mr. Carter’s explanations were not credible that the delays on his route were the result of STAA-protected fatigue breaks.

The department’s Administrative Review Board agreed with the ALJ decision and affirmed the dismissal of Mr. Carter’s complaint. Mr. Carter appealed the decision to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, claiming the ALJ improperly discredited his testimony.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court unanimously agreed that the ALJ improperly discredited Mr. Carter’s evidence.

“CPC and Carter agreed that Carter mentioned fatigue breaks during a telephone conversation with a supervisor about one month before he was fired, but the ALJ inexplicably found that fatigue breaks were never mentioned during that conversation,” the panel said in its unpublished ruling Tuesday, which does not have binding precedent in the circuit. “Given CPC’s concession that Carter mentioned fatigue breaks to his supervisors when questioned about his delays, we conclude that the ALJ’s finding that Carter never told his supervisors that his delays were caused by such breaks is not supported by substantial evidence.”

The court granted Mr. Carter’s petition for review and remanded the case to the secretary “to reconsider Carter’s refusal to drive claim against CPC in light of CPC’s statements that Carter reported taking fatigue breaks to CPC management when asked about his delays and that Carter’s delays were a factor in his termination.”

Representatives of CPC Logistics were not immediately available to comment.