A federal judge in Boston today sided with the little guy in a battle with a national corporation, at least as far as deciding where he and his lawyer can argue his class-action case.
Juan Carlos Montoya of Boston is the lead plaintiff in a suit by truck drivers hired by CRST of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, over how much - or little - they were paid during required training in Michigan and Iowa. While CRST paid Montoya and fellow trainees a per-mile fee when they were behind the wheel, it did not reimburse them for time they spent as a passenger in the trucks - and considered the costs of lodging and travel to the training sites to be advances that had to be repaid out of their wages.
CRST wants the case transferred to a federal court in Iowa, in part because many of its potential witnesses and all of its records are located there.
In her ruling, US District Court Judge Patty Saris said that among the reasons she was siding with Montoya is that:
There can be little doubt that a large corporation like CRST is in a better position to absorb the cost of an
inconvenient forum than an hourly employee like Montoya. As a result, even if the number of Iowa-based witnesses slightly
favors transfer, this consideration is neutralized by the fact that CRST is better able to absorb the cost of such inconvenience.
CRST also argued that the contract Montoya signed includes clauses requiring any legal actions to be tried in Iowa, and under Iowa law.
Montoya argued this was unfair because his command of written English was poor and he missed that. Saris actually dismissed that argument, but said there was another reason to keep the case in Boston.
When Montoya agreed to sign up with CRST, he agreed to get himself first to Michigan and then to Iowa for training. It was in Iowa that he signed the employment contract that bound him to bring any actions in Iowa - and to repay the $2,000 CRST would have charged him for the first round of training should he not complete the training. Regardless of whether Montoya understood the English he was agreeing to, Saris wrote, that was "unreasonable and unjust:"
After all, if he declined to sign, he would have been stranded in Iowa without bus fare home and with a debt of $2,000.
Saris also didn't truck with CRST's argument that a federal judge in Iowa would be better versed in Iowa labor law in overseeing a trial based on that law.
At best, this factor tips slightly in favor of transfer because it is plausible that a district court in Iowa may be somewhat "more familiar" with Iowa law and “in a better position to apply it” than a district court in Massachusetts.
And she disposed of CRST's argument that its documents are mostly located in Iowa, agreeing with Montoya's attorney that that's kind of a bogus argument in the year 2018, when most records are now computerized.
She did not comment on an argument by Montoya's lawyer that Boston would be a better venue than Cedar Rapids because
In terms of air travel, Boston is a far more accessible destination than Cedar Rapids.