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South Bend federal judge rules on FedEx class action litigation

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A federal judge in South Bend has issued a significant 182-page opinion that holds FedEx drivers nationwide are independent contractors rather than employees entitled to back pay and full benefits.

U.S. Judge Robert Miller in the Northern District of Indiana made his decision Tuesday in the five-year-old In Re FedEx Ground Package System, Inc Employment Practices Litigation, MDL 1700, No. 3:05-MD-527, which is a series of multi-district litigation before him consisting of dozens of class-action cases filed by drivers in multiple states including Indiana. Judge Miller’s ruling tosses the claims that FedEx misidentified drivers’ employment status and owed them back pay, overtime, and other damages, though an appeal is likely before the litigation comes to a close.

Though the first individual FedEx cases addressing these issues began surfacing in 2001, the line of litigation obtained MDL centralization in 2005 and Judge Miller has been ruling on various nuances involved through the years. He largely granted class certification to many of the cases in March 2008 and some of the more significant happenings since then have come this year.

In his ruling this week, Judge Miller wrote that the “nationwide character” of this litigation makes it a truly unique set of cases, unlike anything that has appeared before him or in the cases cited by the parties.

Judge Miller found that the drivers are independent contractors in 20 of the 28 remaining group lawsuits, and the judge ruled in favor of FedEx on some claims in the other eight class-action cases.

The judge largely based his ruling on how each states’ laws dictate how employees should be classified, and in various ways that employment relationship turned on the degree of control the purported employer has over workers.

“FedEx doesn’t have the right to control the drivers’ means and methods of how they go about their work,” Judge Miller wrote. “FedEx’s results oriented controls don’t result in employee status.”

Judge Miller relied largely on his holding reached back in August in a FedEx case out of Kansas, where he ruled in the company’s favor and found it didn’t retain the “right to control” its drivers, but rather only offers “suggestions and best practices” and does not dictate delivery requirements.

Specific to the Indiana drivers’ claims, Judge Miller focused on Indiana Code §§ 22-2-6 and 22-2-4-4 concerning illegal deductions in wages as well as fraud statutes. The state statutes don’t define the term “employee,” and the parties agreed the court should interpret that term using Indiana’s common law test for employment status or a ten-factor analysis the Indiana Supreme Court has relied on in the past. The drivers cited a Fort Wayne newspaper’s suit ruled on by the Court of Appeals in 1995, but Judge Miller determined that caselaw isn’t controlling here because no one fact is dispositive and the totality must be considered. Relying on the Kansas decision rationale with the Hoosier statutes, Judge Miller held the Indiana drivers are independent contractors and ruled in favor of FedEx on all claims.

Judge Miller denied a motion by FedEx for a jury trial as moot.

 



 

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