Hundreds of Port Truck Drivers Settle Landmark Class-Action Lawsuit for $5 Million

On July 14, 2016, the Wage Justice Center and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) reached a $5 million class action wage and hour settlement on behalf of nearly 400 immigrant Latino and Korean American port truck drivers against a port trucking company comprised of intertwined corporate entities.

“When I chose to stand up and fight for fair wages for myself and my co-workers, I was fired,” says a former driver. “It’s been a long, hard road, but I’m happy that we will see some of our stolen wages, and more importantly, that drivers are no longer held captive by agreements that exploited us in order to benefit the company.”

The company, QTS, Inc., and its related entities including LACA Express and Win Win Logistics misclassified their drivers as independent contractors in order to deny them their rightful compensation, and then hid behind purported bankruptcy protections to avoid liability for wage theft and other exploitative business practices.

The parties reached a settlement after the drivers followed the company into bankruptcy court and asked the court to act in the interest of justice by consolidating the assets of all of the related business entities in order to overcome the company’s disingenuous claims of poverty.

“The settlement is the first to successfully attack this dual scheme of misclassification and corporate shell games that is endemic in the port trucking industry,” stated Nicole Ochi, supervising litigation attorney from Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles. “Unfortunately, misclassification is the port industry norm. Nearly two-thirds of all port truck drivers nationally are misclassified as independent contractors, resulting in an impoverished, mostly immigrant workforce. We are proud that with this settlement, hundreds of drivers will be rightfully compensated, and we hope this case sends a strong signal to other drivers that they can win if they fight back.”

By classifying the drivers as independent contractors but controlling them like employees, companies are able to evade taxes as well as shift all the costs of operating their businesses to the drivers, including the cost of trucks, gas, maintenance and repair, and insurance, leaving drivers with poverty wages. These high weekly deductions operate like debt bondage, forcing the drivers to work dangerously long hours just to eke out a living.

“The trucking company dictated how much I got paid, which loads I took, and from whom, yet they denied that I was their employee,” says Victor Vitela, a former driver for QTS, Inc. “I was forced to work 80 or more hours per week, sacrificing my health and my family relationships in order to make just a few hundred dollars after all the expenses they took out of my paycheck.”

“The defendants in this case filed for bankruptcy to try to avoid paying our drivers their hard-earned wages,” said Jay Shin, senior staff attorney at Wage Justice Center. “But we were not ready to concede the millions of dollars stolen from our drivers. We doggedly followed them into bankruptcy court and used innovative legal theories to hold the companies liable.”