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Trucking company ordered to pay more than $1M in back wages to fired workers

By Sharon McBrayer
Hickory Daily Record

HICKORY Gaines Motor Lines Inc. will have to pay employees who federal officials say were fired in violation of whistle-blower protection.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered the Hickory company, as well as owner Tim Gaines and also Rick Tompkins to compensate four former truck drivers more than $1 million in back pay wages, interest, compensatory and punitive damages.

“The whistle-blower complaint alleged that four employees were terminated for participating in an inspection audit of the commercial motor carrier company’s facility in Hickory, which was conducted by the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration,” the U.S. Department of Labor said in a release. “From Feb. 28 through March 1, 2012, the four employees were interviewed on-site by the FMCSA.

“On March 8, following the audit and subsequent citations issued against Gaines Motor Lines, the workers suffered adverse retaliation by company officials including termination, layoffs and removal of employee benefits.”

The Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistle-blower complaints.

The company was cited for hours-of-service violations. Duane DeBruyne, spokesman for the Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said if a trucking or bus company is sending drivers from state to state, there are time limits.

A driver going between states can only be behind the wheel for 11 hours during a 14-hour shift. Then the driver has to take 10 hours off before getting behind the wheel again, DeBruyne said.

Tim Gaines could not be reached for comment.

Each employee was awarded $50,000 for mental anguish, pain and suffering. Three of the four – one employee died earlier this year – get $225,000 for punitive damages, and back pay is still accruing until the company makes a bona fide offer to reinstate the employees, regardless of whether the employees accept it, said Michael D’Aquino, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor.

The company has 30 days from receipt of the findings to appeal to the Department of Labor’s Office of Administrative Law Judges, D’Aquino said. He said the department has no information that either side has appealed the decision.

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