Eighth Circuit relaunches salary lawsuit against Werner

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has revived a decade-old lawsuit alleging that Omaha, Neb.-based Werner Enterprises failed to properly pay its learner drivers.

On Wednesday, August 3, the The Eighth Circuit determined that the district court misinterpreted a previous ruling and overturned a 2020 judgment, which sided with Werner. Now the case will go back to the district court.

The story

The learner drivers filed a lawsuit in 2011, alleging that Werner Enterprises, based in Omaha, Neb., violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and Nebraska law through its driver training program. learner drivers for eight weeks. The class consists of over 50,000 drivers from August 2008 to August 1, 2014.

The plaintiffs said they were not being properly compensated for rest time spent on short breaks and time spent resting in the berths of their trucks. After a three-day trial in 2017, the jury awarded the learner drivers nearly $780,000 for the short-term break claims and ruled in Werner’s favor for the berth claims.

After the jury trial, the Eighth Circuit rules district court erred in changing programming order to allow claimants to submit an expert report after the disclosure deadline. In doing so, the appeals court overturned the jury’s verdict and sent the case back to the district court. In 2020, the district court denied the learner drivers a new trial, pointing to the Eighth Circuit’s decision.

However, the Eighth Circuit ruled Aug. 3 that the District Court “abused its discretion by disregarding plaintiffs’ request…for the appointment of a new expert.”

The allegations

From 2008 to August 2014, Werner’s Student Driver Program paid student drivers a flat weekly rate while training with an experienced driver for approximately eight weeks. Werner paid interns the higher of $50 per day or $7.25 per hour “of service”. The learner drivers alleged that minimum wage laws were violated because Werner improperly designated significant periods of legally compensable time as “off duty.” Learner drivers alleged that not being paid for short breaks made them earn less than minimum wage. LL

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