Swift short miles lawsuit hits road block decertification ruling

By Greg Grisolano, associate editor

A decade-long lawsuit claiming Swift Transportation shorted drivers hundreds of millions of dollars on mileage-based pay is on hold pending the outcome of a motion to appeal a judge's ruling to decertify the case as a class-action.

The ruling to decertify the class was issued in July by Judge Richard Gama, the same judge who in 2013 certified the class and ruled that former Swift driver Leonel Garza would serve as the representative.

In his ruling to decertify the class, the judge wrote that Swift presented "overwhelming evidence" that it did disclose and explain to both owner-operators and employee drivers "that miles determined by household goods mileage were less than the actual miles driven" and that Garza's claim "is not typical of the class claim."

The decertification ruling means that Garza is free to pursue his own individual lawsuit for damages against the company, but he no longer acts as the legal stand-in for an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 employee drivers and owner-operators who were allegedly underpaid by hundreds of millions of dollars total by the company's HHG formula.

Michella Kras, an attorney with Hagens Berman, a national law firm that had been representing the plaintiffs in the class-action, said the judge's ruling is "a little bit of a roadblock."

"He said in light of new evidence, Swift had shown that it did explain HHG to drivers," Kras said in a phone interview with Land Line. "We obviously disagree with that.

"When we've averaged it out, (the amount shorted) has been between 8 and 9 percent, which is pretty high," she said. "The fact that (mileage) may vary doesn't tell a driver that, across the board, you're going to get shorted 8 percent. Eight percent of your time is essentially free for us."

The law firm was granted a stay on Garza's case pending an appeal of the decertification. Kras said the plan was to file a special action for the appeal in late November. If the appeals court accepts the case, a ruling on whether to recertify the class or to uphold the decertification would most likely occur in 2016. LL