Truck Drivers Win Class Certification Against Houston’s Benchmark Energy Transport

Posted on Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Provost Umphrey legal team earns key ruling for owner-operators in fee-skimming case

HOUSTON – A federal judge has granted conditional class-action certification to a group of owner-operator truck drivers who are suing Houston-based Benchmark Energy Transport Services for allegedly skimming fees from the drivers’ lease contracts.

Attorneys from Beaumont, Texas-based Provost Umphrey Law Firm, Minneapolis’ Chestnut Cambronne PA, and Burnsville, Minnesota’s Taylor & Associates, Ltd., won the ruling yesterday after presenting sworn testimony from owner/operator truck drivers about pay discrepancies. They also provided deposition testimony from a Benchmark executive who admitted that the company’s contract drivers had no way of knowing that their pay was being docked 12 percent based on a hidden fee.

Judge Vanessa Gilmore granted the motion for conditional class certification in Gassoway, et al. v. Benchmark Energy Transport Inc., et al., No. 4:15-CV-00488, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The court’s March 2 order notes that the class could grow to more than 200 owner-operators who contracted with Benchmark between 2011 and 2015. Class certification enables the consolidation of numerous cases and provides a strengthened negotiating position for the truck drivers.

“These truckers are hard-working, small-business owners who trusted Benchmark and only asked for a fair and transparent lease contract,” says Provost Umphrey attorney Matthew C. Matheny, who represents the plaintiffs with fellow firm attorney Michael A. Havard. “This important ruling clears the way for all owner-operators who have been underpaid by Benchmark to be made whole.”

Mr. Matheny and Mr. Havard have been appointed as co-class counsel for the truck drivers along with attorneys Paul O. Taylor of Taylor & Associates, Ltd., in Burnsville, Minnesota, and Karl L. Cambronne, Brian N. Toder and Sarah B. Bennett of Chestnut Cambronne PA, in Minneapolis.

The lawsuit was filed in February 2015 by three owner-operators who say Benchmark violated federal law and systematically underpaid them. According to the lawsuit, the lease contracts did not clearly state how much Benchmark would pay each vehicle owner, instead paying them an undefined percentage of what Benchmark billed customers. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Benchmark skimmed payments to drivers by applying a secret surcharge and underreporting revenue by up to 12.5 percent.

Founded in 1969, Provost Umphrey is well-known for representing plaintiffs in cases involving serious personal injury and wrongful death; motor vehicle and aviation accidents; worksite injuries; chemical exposure and toxic torts; dangerous pharmaceutical drugs; complex business disputes; high-stakes insurance claims; and wage-and-hour employment issues.

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For 50 years, our firm’s mission has remained to seek justice for those most in need – those who have suffered a personal injury or death due to the wrongful conduct of others. Our attorneys fight for our clients nationwide with offices in Beaumont and Houston, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee. We continue to be one of the most successful trial law firms in the nation by remaining Hard-Working Lawyers for Hard-Working People.

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