Photo by Evan Lockridge

Photo by Evan Lockridge

An Arizona court has ruled that independent-contractor drivers were effectively and legally employees in the latest update of a class-action lawsuit against Swift Transportation.

On Jan. 5, the District Court in Arizona granted a partial summary judgment to the five drivers involved in the lawsuit, declaring them employees despite Swift considering them contract workers. The drivers' suit contended that because they were not classified as employees, they missed out on wages required by law.

Although the drivers were regarded as independent contractors by Swift, the court found that because they worked exclusively for Swift and drove trucks that were leased from Swift, they were not functionally able to work for another fleet at the same time.

“Plaintiffs had much less control of their schedule than defendants contend,” the court stated in the judgment document. "Even though plaintiffs were not explicitly required to work a set number of hours, the combination of the contractor agreements and the IEL leases dictated a minimum amount of time plaintiffs needed to drive for Swift in order to pay the weekly rent for the leased truck."

Swift’s attorneys argued that, within the confines of the independent contractor agreement, the drivers were still able to choose to take multiple loads or refuse loads for better ones to increase profits. The court also disagreed with this line of argument.

While "defendants argue that there were ways plaintiffs and other contract drivers could use their 'business acumen, hard work, and enterprise' to make a profit and establish an autonomous business,'" the court said the evidence showed "it was impracticable for plaintiffs to establish their independence from Swift in order to maximize profits."

Swift has not yet responded to an HDT request for comment on the case.

This lawsuit is one of many similar driver misclassification claims across the industry. Often taking place at trucking companies that service ports, the suits all similarly allege that while the company does not consider these drivers are employees, they are not truly independent and should be classified as employees subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

California in particular has made an effort to crack down on the practice of hiring drivers as independent contractors in cases where it could violate labor standards, which has led to millions of dollars in settlements against trucking companies, in some cases leading to bankruptcy.