ATA safety council holds mock trial
Earlier this week, ATA’s Safety & Maintenance Management Council held its annual mock trial where industry and legal experts pooled resources to produce an incredibly informative event to educate ATA member fleet owners and managers about what to expect in the event of lawsuit.
The event was co-produced by SMMC members and attorneys from the law firm of Starnes Davis Florie LLP in Homewood, Ala., creating a mock lawsuit that demonstrated the types of suits a trucking business might encounter.
Previous mock trials recreated civil lawsuits involving injury and damages caused by truck accidents. This year, however, SMMC leaders wanted to focus on more human resources, creating a civil case that involved elements of wrongful termination and sexual harassment.
The outline of yesterday’s lawsuit was a female driver claimed she was wrongfully terminated and then blackballed by company managers after she complained of harassment from a male supervisor during driver training exercises. She alleged she was assigned older trucks with less than perfect safety features. She also added that after expressing concerns to managers, they ignored and even harassed her until she quit — which she believed was the intent all along.
After leaving the company, looking for comparable and pay as a truck driver, she found that no local companies would hire her, forcing her to take a lesser job to support her family.
The plaintiff’s legal team further argued that the termination was ultimately retaliation for speaking out to a terminal manager about the harassment, who failed to take appropriate actions as outlined in the company’s employment policy book.
On the other side, the defense argued that the driver lacked experience and wasn’t very good at her job to begin with, which was the real reason she wasn’t allowed to drive newer, better equipped trucks. The defense also dismissed claims that sexual harassment occurred during the female driver’s short stint with the company.
The suit asked for back pay and damages for the driver.
Attendees of the mock trial served on one of three juries during the event, and after both sides in the case presented their facts and arguments, jurors considered the evidence and rendered verdicts, which varied from decisions and damages awarded.
According to ATA Director of Safety Tim Frazier, who oversees the safety council, the mock trial was excellent example of industry and legal experts pooling resources to produce an incredibly informative event to educate ATA member fleet owners and managers about what to expect in the event of a lawsuit.
“We got a lot of input from some of our SMMC members on the details of the trial,” Frazier said.
The legal experts agreed. “This was intended to be a very realistic exercise,” said trial moderator Trip Umbach of Starnes Davis Florie. “The witnesses did a fantastic job today; the facts were realistic, and everything was designed to give (attendees) an idea of how a trial like this would work. One thing I should point out, however, is that this wasn’t a true representation of the makeup of a typical jury.
“All of you work for trucking companies; and judging by your questions, you are very experienced with how a trucking company operates. In reality, you probably would not have a single a juror who would know anything about the trucking industry. And you’d be lucky to have even one supervisor (in any kind of business) on the jury. Most people on a jury would probably identify more with a plaintiff than a company. That’s always the biggest challenge in these types of cases.”
Overall, Frazier said this mock trial was a great learning experience for members, offering a nice change of pace from previous events.
“Thanks to the team from Starnes Davis Florie LLP for their expertise to create a very real courtroom experience, and we’d also like to thank to the ATA Workers’ Comp Fund for providing lunch from Dreamland Barbecue. We appreciate the support.”
ATA’s Safety & Maintenance Management Council membership is open to any employee of an ATA member firm. For more information on the benefits of SMMC, please visit http://www.alabamatrucking.org/what-is-smmc/what-is-smmc/