Chauffeurs Face Setback in Bell Trans Lawsuit

by David Mayerhofer on July 15, 2009

Las Vegas Slots

In an effort to collect back wages and overtime, chauffeurs have lost a key ruling in their class action lawsuit against Las Vegas based Bell Trans.

From the Las Vegas Sun:

A federal judge last month issued a ruling in a landmark class action lawsuit filed by drivers.   Not only can drivers not sue for minimum wages under state law, but the constitutional amendment to raise the state’s minimum wage, approved by voters in 2006, wasn’t intended to remove preexisting minimum wage exemptions, built into state law, for drivers like them.

The order, signed by U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones, states that voters likely didn’t intend to remove the exemption when they voted for the amendment, which aimed to increase the minimum wage rate and doesn’t mention exemptions or how to handle them.

Although the judge has stated the chauffeurs don’t qualify under state law to collect minimum wage, Judge Jones has allowed the Bell Trans drivers to pursue federal minimum wage and overtime claims.  The chauffeurs are appealing the decision.

My Take

This is sad.  At one time, Las Vegas was the most lucrative limo market in America.  If a chauffeur hustled, he could make 75k a year without breaking a sweat.  It was the wild west of limo driving.

Coming out of LA, I was always amazed at how crazy these guys were.  Compared to Vegas, limo drivers in New York and LA were a bunch of conservative squares.  These guys were serious hustlers.  I once did a job with a driver who not only drove, but sold show tickets out of the trunk of his limo!

Things have certainly changed.  The questionable pay schemes that were once tolerated are now the basis of a class action lawsuit.  The chauffeurs are struggling and they want to be fairly compensated.  As a former chauffeur, I can empathize.   I dealt with a lot of illegal paychecks.

In Vegas, the limo companies say the drivers should be paid like sales reps and receive compensation based on their productivity.  That’s a bunch of B.S.  Unlike a sale rep, a chauffeur doesn’t operate independently.  Every second of his day is directed by a dispatcher.  Employees who are under the complete control of the company should be paid by the hour.

In the case of Bell Trans, the company pays for the fuel, carries the insurance, and owns the car.  These chauffeurs are employees, not independent operators.  Under federal law, a chauffeur should be paid from the time he gets to work to the time he leaves.  This includes gap time and setup.  In order to comply with federal statutes, Bell Trans needs to treat their chauffeurs like employees, not IO’s.

The Future

The chauffeurs are now requesting permission to take the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  If their appeal fails, they’ll take it to the Nevada Supreme court.  This is a good move.  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is the most liberal court in America.  If any court is going to rule favorably in a labor dispute, this is the one.

In terms of the industry, this case may have a limited impact.  Despite the fact that CLS, Carey, Avalon, and Music Express have either lost or settled major class action lawsuits, little has changed outside these respective entities.  The industry still operates in a vacuum under a myriad of questionable pay schemes. It will certainly affect Nevada’s chauffeurs, but Prince v. CLS Transportation set the industry precedent.

A class action lawsuit is very nasty stuff.  Considering the transitory nature of chauffeurs, very few are willing to take up the fight.  My hat goes off to the guys in Nevada.  They may have lost the first battle, but they’re going to win the war.

Find Out More

Las Vegas Sun

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Thierman Law Firm

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