A group of 65 school bus drivers has filed a class action lawsuit against bus company First Student on behalf of potentially thousands of other bus drivers, claiming the company has made a habit of underpaying its drivers.
Attorneys Karl W. Roth and William P. Foley of the Roth Law Group, of Chicago, filed the action Tuesday, Oct. 13, in federal court in Chicago. In applying for class action status, the attorneys assert the potential class – defined as “all persons who were, are or will be hourly non-exempt bus drivers and driver assistants employed by First Student, who earned, but did not receive proper payment” – could number as many as 12,000 members.
The suit claims First Student’s timekeeping policies cheat drivers out of both regular hourly pay and overtime. The charges include refusal to pay drivers and bus monitors for time spent working, failing to pay time-and-a-half for overtime, and failing to maintain accurate time records.
Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, First Student operates in 42 states, with about 40 bus yards in Illinois, including more than 15 yards in northern Illinois in such communities as Batavia, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Hodgkins, Northbrook, Kankakee, South Holland, Westmont, Woodridge, Villa Park, DeKalb and Belvidere, among others. The company is the largest provider of student bus transportation in the U.S.
According to court documents, First Student has been investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor multiple times over the last decade, and has been ordered six times by judges in five states to pay back wages. In the state of New Jersey, the company has also been required to pay civil penalties as the result of its history of violating that state’s labor laws.
“First Student’s violations in this case were ‘willful’ violations and not the result of any mistaken impression of the applicable law,” the lawsuit states. “First Student’s compensation policies and practices relative to its bus drivers was a calculated choice, risking the chance of prosecution against the cumulative savings from non-payment of wages.”
The lawsuit claims First Student does not maintain time cards for its employees, but estimates payroll based on the timestamps generated by an equipment inspection system bus drivers check into and out of at the beginning and end of their shift. However, before checking in to the system, drivers must wait in line to receive their route assignment and keys, and after checking out, they have to clean out and inspect the bus, report their findings to the office, and return their equipment. These duties, which the drivers estimate take up about an extra hour a week, are required, but performed off the clock, according to the lawsuit.
The length of time it should take a driver to complete each route is estimated by a computer system. In the event it takes longer than usual to complete the route, the driver and monitor are routinely unpaid for the difference between the estimate and actual time, the lawsuit says. It claims drivers were also not paid for “dead time” between the end of a regular shift and any extracurricular charter runs.
The lawsuit has alleged two violations of federal law and three violations of Illinois labor law. The plaintiffs seek damages including unpaid wages and overtime, liquidated damages, attorney’s fees and costs, and a 2 percent monthly interest award a judge could apply to any wages found to be owed.