Agriculture

Ruan settles class action lawsuit by drivers for $10.5 million

A class action lawsuit by milk tanker drivers against Ruan trucking company for allegedly not allowing them uninterrupted lunch and dinner breaks is being settled out of court for $10.5 million.

About 1,145 drivers and former drivers in California are affected, and checks would average more than $5,000, said the drivers’ lawyer, Andrew Jones of Fresno.

The lawsuit was filed in 2008, and the agreement was reached last week, he said.

If the case had not settled, it would have gone to trial later this month in Tulare County Superior Court.

Ruan Transportation Management Systems, based in Des Moines, Iowa, called the lawsuit a “distraction” and settled to put it in the rearview mirror.

“Ruan’s senior leadership and legal team felt strongly that we would successfully defend the claims made by the class given our compliant policies and practices,” the company said in a statement. “However, it was time to reach a final resolution on this matter.”

The drivers are “the backbone of our organization” who are appreciated and well-paid, the company said.

Drivers complained they would take half-hour unpaid lunch breaks while trucks were in line at a creamery to offload their tankers, yet were required to be in radio contact and near their trucks at all times in case they had to be moved into or out of a loading bay or moved forward in line.

“I’m not saying they didn’t take lunch,” but the half-hour break was not exclusively the drivers’ time as required by law, Jones said.

“I liken it to hiring a college kid to stand in line for you to buy tickets to a Giants game,” Jones said. “After three hours you tell him, ‘Take a half-hour unpaid lunch break but don’t leave the line.’ ”

The company said its policies and practices complied with California law and union contracts.

“Throughout their employment, drivers have consistently been allowed the opportunity to take off-duty meal breaks at creameries and off-site locations,” the company said.

Much of the dispute involved former employees who worked for Kings County Truck Lines before Ruan acquired the company’s California operations several years ago, the company said.

The majority of the $10.5 million settlement will go to the drivers’ attorneys, lawsuit costs and former employees, the company said.

Retired driver Matt Jett of Kern County said he drove for Kings County Truck Lines and Ruan for many years.

“I hope this lesson goes around the country for companies to give the employee the required lunch break,” he said.

Jones said the agreement was reached with the assistance of a mediator. It is being written and must still be approved by a judge, he said.

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