Driver Sues FedEx, says it didn’t deliver on benefits or overtime pay

Madison couple among thousands taking on company
Friday, March 02, 2007

A former contract driver for Federal Express Ground Package System says in a federal lawsuit that the parcel delivery giant has denied him benefits he should have received.

Huntsville lawyer Allen Brinkley filed the suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Huntsville for Bruce Edwin Gentle and Stephanie Sullins Gentle of Madison. Bruce Gentle was a contract driver from 1999 until FedEx terminated his contract in December. His wife, Stephanie, joined him in the business in 2001.

The Gentles have joined thousands of complainants from around the country who are disgruntled about the company’s employment practices, Brinkley said. A federal judge in Indiana is overseeing more than 30 class action lawsuits from several states that involve about 15,000 people, he said.

“The National Labor Relations Board has ruled seven times that Federal Express drivers are employees and not independent contractors,” he said. “The Gentles were employees who were working at the pleasure of FedEx.”

Brinkley filed the suit separate from the class action. Like the Gentles, the members of the class allege they were denied health insurance, workers compensation insurance, a retirement plan and other employee benefits. “The Gentles worked 12 to 14 hours a day and did not receive overtime pay,” he said. “We are entitled to be reimbursed for all unpaid overtime and health and other benefits.”

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Robert Boulware, a Federal Express spokesman in Moon Township, Pa., said Thursday he could not comment on the allegations in the Gentles’ suit. But he readily defended the company’s position.

“FedEx Ground has always used an independent contractor delivery work force,” he said. “Our independent contractors manage their own businesses, have the freedom to hire/dismiss their employees as needed and can purchase additional delivery routes from other FedEx Ground contractors.

“More than 100 rulings and decisions have confirmed FedEx owner-operators are appropriately classified as independent contractors. And it’s a model that the majority of our contractors wholeheartedly embrace, and one that FedEx Ground is fully committed to defending.”

In addition to buying their routes from FedEx, the drivers are required to purchase their own vehicles and provide insurance, gasoline and equipment maintenance, Brinkley said. The contractors cannot use their trucks for other purposes. When not in use, the vehicles are parked behind a locked fence.

FedEx terminated the Gentles on allegedly fabricated charges that the couple’s business had too many complaints, Brinkley said. The Gentles’ route went to a FedEx employee, he said. The Gentles’ three delivery trucks, minus the purple and green FedEx logos, are sitting idle with “for sale” signs on them.