Federal Administrative Law Judge Daniel Leland issued an order yesterday reinstating truck driver Cynthia Ferguson to her job with New Prime, Inc. He also awarded her $26,601 in back pay, $2,269 in compensation for her personal property, $50,000 in compensatory damages, and $75,000 in punitive damages for conduct that “was both reprehensible and inimical to the purpose of the Act.” That Act is the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) that protects truck drivers when they blow the whistle on safety violations.

Ferguson refused to driver her truck over the Donner Pass near Reno, Nevada, on December 25, 2008. Ferguson saw the weather and the hazardous driving conditions as she drove. After consulting other drivers, listening to radio weather reports and receiving reports from the State authorities advising against travel, Ferguson said that she was not going to drive through Donner Pass until weather and driving conditions improved. Her dispatcher got upset with her and recommended that New Prime, Inc., fire her.  Prime then dispatched Ferguson to Springfield, Missouri, where a Prime management official, Jack Ewing, fired her.

Judge Leland held that Ferguson’s refusal to drive was legally protected because violations of DOT regulations would have occurred but for Ferguson’s refusal to drive in the hazardous weather. Judge Leland credited Ferguson’s testimony noting that she properly relied upon reliable reports of bad weather and unsafe driving conditions through Donner Pass. Judge Leland also ordered that New Prime, Inc., reinstate Ferguson as a driver, and that it pay Ferguson’s legal fees.

Congratulations to Ferguson’s attorney, Paul O. Taylor of the Truckers Justice Center, on this fine result.