The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) issued a ruling last month finding in favor of whistleblower Lavan Williams against his former employer, Domino’s Pizza on claims of retaliatory firing. The ARB’s decision affirms an order by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in favor of Williams. It has now been over three years since Williams filed his claim for back pay and other damages from Domino’s. Williams, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, filed his complaint under the the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). The ARB held that Williams was entitled to protection even after he refused to rat out his co-workers. The ARB also held that it was proper for the ALJ to accept into evidence a transcript of Williams’ unemployment hearing.
Williams worked with other drivers in delivering supplies to Domino’s restaurants. Domino’s policy was to have one driver drive while the other one rested so that neither driver would exceed the hours-of-service (HOS) rule of the Department of Transportation. Other drivers often harassed Williams for not working beyond the legal hours to help them with their deliveries, a practice that was endorsed unofficially by Domino’s who often gave truck routes that required drivers to work beyond the legal limit of hours. Williams objected to working on deliveries during his rest time. Needless to say, some of his co-workers who wanted help unloading were less than happy with Williams. Williams made a complaint about HOS violations on Domino’s compliance hotline. Domino’s policy was that such complaints would be anonymous. However, soon after Williams made the complaint, his supervisors called him in and grilled him about his complaint. They wanted to know which co-workers pressured him to do unloading during his rest time. Williams refused to say. Domino’s soon thereafter fired Williams in October of 2007, claiming that it was due to him not reporting a minor accident that he was involved in while driving a company truck.
The ARB agreed with the ALJ that Domino’s stated reason for firing Williams was “without credence.” Superiors at Domino’s testified that they had never received any report by Williams about the accident but were contradicted by other supervisors who were aware that Williams had reported the accident. At one point, a supervisor told Williams that since he had “been able to call the compliance hotline, he should have been able to contact the accident hotline.” This comment helped connect the discharge to Williams’ safety complaint.
The ARB also held that Williams refusal to name the names of his co-workers did not affect this retaliation claim. His refusal to violate the HOS rule, and his hotline call, were still protected activities, even if he refused to name names. Finally, the ARB held that Williams could use as evidence the testimony of Domino’s witnesses at his unemployment hearing.
Workers should never have to choose between reporting illegal requests and keeping their job. Our roads will be safer with drivers like Williams insisting that they get the rest required by federal law before they get behind the wheel. Williams pursued his case without an attorney. Congratulations to him.
This blog entry was drafted with the assistance of intern Jesse Meade.