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

Limo drivers’ suit seeks safety net: Minimum wage pay

Judge detours cabbies’ drive for minimum wage

LimoCentric

JIM LUFF Reports: For Whom The Bell Tolls

JIM LUFF: Bells Are Tolling For Illegal Pay Methods

Plantiffs Legal Defense

Thierman Law Firm

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

eric July 16, 2009 at 9:29 am

great job well put and you forgot to metion that the lawyer mane is mark thierman for any driver that waunts to get involed his #is 775-284-1500 or laborlawyer.net and also were in america is the free labor thay have skirted around this law long enough its time to pay the piper

David Mayerhofer July 16, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Thanks Eric. I would also like to mention the case includes chauffeurs from Reno.

Felix July 17, 2009 at 3:08 pm

I shudder whenever I have any dealings with governmental agencies. Even before the depression and Roosevelt, the government was already infringing on our rights and has grown like a fungus beyond our wildest dreams. With the present regulations and taxes fostered on most industries, trying to run a business can be mind-boggling. I had no idea the limousine industry was also entrapped and fell into this category, and that legitimate owners are being screwed, possibly out of existence. Who ever though I’d be looking forward to the day I’d be rooting for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but in the case for Limousine owners, I do. Keep those articles coming, I’m learning more about the industry every day.

David Mayerhofer July 17, 2009 at 9:47 pm

It’s astonishing that in 2009 the government will consume 40% of GDP approaching the peak of WWII. Prior to the New Deal, government consumed 3%. It’s illogical the most inefficient segment of our economy (government) would consume the largest portion. American Empire and unchecked social spending certainly has its price.

jack July 18, 2009 at 1:59 pm

and why do you think these drivers are trying to get this setteled because some owners arnt going by the laws of the land so what i think we all need to do is to have the state govt come into all these bussiness when thay recive a complaint and do a aduit and see if thay are in compliance i here a lot of stuff with the limo owners that some owners arnt in compliance and are skirting the laws so when thay are reported it needs to be delt with and the safty is the most imporant and happy drivers will give there hearts out to a companey and thay all will win unhappy drivers can hert your bussiness so good luck to these drivers in there fight hope thay win for there wages and the other things thay are sueing for so it dont make the industreylook bad

David Mayerhofer July 19, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Great point regarding happy drivers. I once worked with a driver who assaulted a client because he was exhausted and had been arguing with dispatch. Most drivers just want a little respect and fair compensation.

james September 30, 2009 at 11:38 pm

UPDATE: Have you all seen the news on the nlsa web site by their lawyers and also jim luff with LCT Magazine? If you think the drivers are going to lose, I urge you to reed their stories. The case is going well per the attorney Mark Thierman so stay tune from Reno Nevada.

james December 8, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Well, there is no set back now that the judge has said they can sue for all hours worked. There is no place in America that an employer can have free labor, so expect a settelment soon … and the damages also … and all the money that thay took from the drivers. Good job to the lawyer Mark Thierman. You can see the story in the Las Vegas Sun and LCT Magazine under Jim Luff and the AP news and the San Francisco Chronicle.

David Mayerhofer December 14, 2009 at 12:01 am

I wouldn’t expect a settlement soon. This decision is the beginning of a very long and drawn out process. The cases involving Music Express, CLS, Carey, and Diva went on for years. The only people who came out ahead were the lawyers.

I have yet to see any limousine class-action suit where individual chauffeurs received a significant part of the settlement. Even in the case of Music, who payed out 7 figures, the drivers walked away with pennies.

Real victory will come when the Nevada limousine oligopolies change their business practices and pay their chauffeurs for the actual hours they work. If this has to be done by a court order, then so be it.

james December 17, 2009 at 12:26 pm

well her is a update for you all i herd that thay waunt to settle and when the judge had said that the drivers can sue for all hours worked and he had cerfied the class action lawsuit this month on november 23rd and now thay waunt to settle i herd that there are over 1000, drivers involed in this suit the bottom line is the driver are going to get there pay and bell in reno has gotton rid for one reason or another all there long time drivers but 4 are left it is so sad to see.

Trisha January 7, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I feel these limo drivers in vegas do not get enough credit, they deserve to be making more money, if they work 8 hours or more a day they need to be compensated for it and overtime.

Richard January 27, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Same thing different place! Here in San Antonio Tx. The owner of the limo company demands that his drivers stay away from the shop, and if they arrive early before the next appointment, they are to be clocked out until only 15 minutes remain before client pickup.
Yet they are responsible for the equipment where they are at. Next he has ordered his sales people to say that gratuities are included in the rate, he goes ahead and charges the gratuity but the driver never sees a penny. The client gets out of the car and says have a good day, I know you’ve been taken care of by your company…yeah right! When the employees are close to the 4o hour mark he has no work for them and instead brings in part time employees to fill in.
Company two pays only a lousy ten dollars per trip regardless of how long you have to sit and wait for a client or a delayed plane to land. Work is work and if you are a driver one should be protectected by the labor laws that apply to all who do an honest day’s work to support their families.

emil f gallo February 2, 2012 at 8:34 am

First…. Skippy you could not make 75k if worked every day @ 12 hr. a day. And if tried that little trick with the trunk you’ll be fired.
to Felix… go take a nap. you inconsiderate ___. I bet your a big tipper.
Don’t feel bad Skippy the only ones’ making the big money. is the owners… And that’s the beef… the owners keep adding more cars and more drivers.. so they have good coverage. That’s the key (to increase revenue ) flood the streets with your cars and you will increase your profits. So with that formula the drivers will take home less money every year.… but the owners make more every year.

Lets look at the big picture… folks we are only talking about minimum wages here.
So the money on the table is 13k per year. And don’t give me that “bull” about the big tips, because the ‘Wales’ are few and far between. If the drivers were asking for an unreasonable amount of money it would be different.
And Judge:
Judge… what are you doing here. These guys are being treated unfairly. … Stand up and do the right thing.
Mr Bell there is no hope for you. not going there.

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