Truck drivers sue Celadon over wages, employment status

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Celadon Group Inc.

Three former drivers for Celadon Group are suing the Indianapolis-based trucking company, claiming it violated state and federal laws by hiring them as independent contractors and unlawfully withholding portions of their wages.

In their lawsuit, the former drivers say the amounts of the withholdings were so high that they typically earned less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

The drivers are seeking class-action status in federal court in Indianapolis and estimate the number of truckers who could be affected to be in the thousands. Celadon provides trucking services throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, and is one of the nation’s largest trucking companies.

William Blakley and Helen Blakley, both of Siler City, North Carolina, and Kimberly Smith of Jacksonville, Florida, all worked for Celadon in 2015 but voluntarily left after stints ranging from just two to four months on the job.

Under state and federal law, the three claim they should have been considered Celadon employees because the company required them to attend a three-day orientation, undergo a physical exam, take drug and road tests, and watch numerous training videos.

They further claim their contracts with publicly traded Celadon prohibited them from driving for another carrier, preventing them from increasing their income. The only way they could increase profitability, the suit says, was to attempt to improve their efficiency.

During their time with Celadon, the three claim the firm made “unlawful deductions” from their paychecks, including for trailer lease payments, fuel, toll charges, and other fees.

The drivers argue in the suit that Celadon violated the Indiana Wage Payment Statute and Fair Labor Standards Act by not hiring them as employees and paying them “less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked during a work week.”

Besides class-action status, the three are seeking “pay and benefits they would have received had it not been for [Celadon’s] illegal actions,” in addition to liquidated damages.

The drivers filed the suit in federal court on Feb. 12. Celadon has until April 14 to respond to the complaint.

In an email to IBJ, Celadon said it has "a policy of not commenting substantively on pending litigation. Celadon is aware of the lawsuit and intends to defend vigorously the independent-contractor status of its owner-operators, whose entrepreneurial spirit and hard work is very much appreciated by the company."

Celadon has been headquartered on the east side of Indianapolis at East 33rd Street and Mitthoeffer Road since 1996 and is searching for a site on which to build a $20 million corporate campus. It is targeting land at Mount Comfort in Hancock County.

Shares in Celadon were down 6.5 percent Wednesday morning, to $10.77 each.

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