Class action: Cicero trucking firm improperly classifies drivers as independent contractors

By Jonathan Bilyk | Jun 26, 2015

A tractor-trailer driver who claims Cicero-based trucking company DNJ Intermodal Services improperly seized his truck in a dispute over outstanding payments on a loan the company made him to repair the truck has brought a class action suit, alleging the trucking company has improperly classified as independent contractors truck drivers they employ.

Driver Lucio Barrera, through attorneys from the Chicago firm of Caffarelli & Associates, filed his complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against the trucking company.

Barrera’s complaint states he intends to serve as the lead plaintiff in an action that would include a class of as many as 100 truck drivers who “entered into independent contractor agreements or similar contracts with DNJ” and from whose paychecks DNJ has allegedly deducted amounts for various purported company expenses.

“Although defendant (DNJ) classified plaintiff (Barrera) and the members of the putative class as independent contractors, the behavioral and financial control manifested over the drivers by DNJ demonstrates that they are in fact the defendant’s employees,” the complaint asserts.

According to the complaint, Barrera began work for DNJ in September 2013, as an “independent contractor” owning his own truck, a 1996 Freightliner.

Barrera said some of the drivers hired by DNJ and classified as independent contractors also owned trucks, while others leased trucks owned by DNJ to complete their “drayage,” or short-haul jobs.

As part of their contracts, Barrera alleges drivers, while considered independent contractors, were forbidden from using their trucks – even if they owned them – to work for anyone other than DNJ, and from negotiating or contracting with customers directly.

Drivers were also required to use DNJ’s proprietary “communication and tracking system” for dispatch and instructions.

Further, Barrera’s complaint states DNJ held the rights to fire drivers from further work for DNJ if “they are not performing their work up to DNJ’s standards, or if DNJ determines they engaged in ‘improper conduct,’ at the discretion of DNJ.”

And Barrera alleged DNJ routinely deducted money from the drivers’ checks without securing prior authorization from the drivers to allegedly “cover the cost” of the dispatch and tracking system, truck leases, insurance and “administrative costs.”

Deductions can amount to more than 25 percent of drivers’ gross pay, the complaint asserts.

“DNJ frequently deducted amounts from (drivers’) paychecks, so much so that in certain weeks, (drivers) were not paid at all for the hours they worked,” the complaint states.

Barrera’s complaint included two counts, including one alleging violation of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act and another alleging conversion.

Barrera alleged the company improperly seized his truck in January when Barrera alleges the company deducted too much money from his check to allow him to make a required payment on a loan the company had paid him to finance repair work on his truck.

While Barrera stopped working for DNJ at that time, he said the company has refused to allow him to “access his truck” since.

Barrera has asked the court to require DNJ to return his truck to him and pay back pay, all past paycheck deductions, restitution of the drivers’ operating expenses paid by Barrera and other drivers classified as independent contractors, and unspecified statutory and punitive damages.

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