Joe Sayas was recently named a Top Labor and Employment Attorney by The Daily Journal, the nation's leading daily news source for lawyers.
In its June 3, 2015 issue, the Daily Journal reported on a class action successfully prosecuted by Mr. Sayas on behalf of port truck drivers in Long Beach, CA, which resulted in a cash settlement fund of $11.04 million. The case, Taylor v. Shippers Transport Express Inc., was filed in federal court and was intensively litigated by all parties for more than 3 years.
Mr. Sayas and his team of attorneys, Matthew Hayes, Karl Evangelista, and Kye Pawlenko, challenged the trucking company's practice of misclassifying drivers as independent contractors, and illegally deducting from drivers' pay the cost of fuel, insurance, and truck repairs. Because the drivers were misclassified as independent contractors, they were not provided the basic protections available to employees under California law. Mr. Sayas fought to obtain employee status for the class of drivers, seeking an injunction in court to stop the misclassification.
The fight for reclassification came to a head when Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued a ruling stating that the class of drivers were indeed employees based on the trucking company's right to control the drivers' work.
Another hurdle that Mr. Sayas and his team needed to overcome was the trucking company's threatened insolvency, and the risk that, after all this hard work, the drives will still not get reimbursed if the trucking company filed bankruptcy. Thus, Mr. Sayas also sued the trucking company's affiliate, SSA Marine Inc., the biggest marine terminal operator in the country, asserting that SSA Marine, Inc. is a joint employer, and should also be held liable for the misclassification.
Even with the court's ruling that the drivers are employees, Mr. Sayas and his team still needed to prove in trial that SSA Marine was a joint employer, and that it was liable for the drivers' damages. However, on the eve of trial, the parties agreed to settle the drivers' claims for $11,040,000.
With the settlement of the case came a complete overhaul of the drivers' working conditions. Because the court has reclassified them as employees, the drivers were able to collectively negotiate to obtain significant benefits that they did not have before the settlement.
The drivers now enjoy medical and dental insurance for themselves and their family dependents, retirement benefits, paid vacation and sick leaves, and coverage for Workers Compensation if they are injured at work. As employees, the drivers now have protection against unlawful discrimination and harassment.
For years, the prevailing industry practice at the port was to misclassify drivers as independent contractors because it minimized the trucking companies' costs by passing on the expenses to the drivers. Because the trucking companies involved in the Taylor v. Shippers Transport Express Inc. case are major players in the ports, the drivers' victory in this class action promises to be the bellwether in the change of industry standards that respects workers' rights.