April 15, 2024


Supreme Court Rules Transportation Workers Exempt from Arbitration Regardless of Employer’s Industry

On April 12, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that transportation workers can be exempt from forced arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) even if their employer is not in the transportation industry. The case, Bissonnette v. Lepage Bakeries Park St, LLC, is a major victory for transportation workers, including truck drivers, delivery personnel, and direct store distributors.

The case involved two distributors who delivered baked goods in Connecticut for Flowers Foods, one of the largest bakery companies in the U.S. The distributors filed a class action lawsuit alleging Flowers Foods misclassified them as independent contractors rather than employees, denying them overtime pay and making illegal wage deductions. Flowers Foods tried to force the case into private arbitration, arguing the distributors did not qualify for the FAA’s exemption for transportation workers since they worked in the bakery industry, not transportation.

However, the Supreme Court rejected this industry-based test. The Court held that under the plain language of the FAA, the relevant question is the nature of the work the individual performs, not the industry of their employer. A worker qualifies as a “transportation worker” exempt from the FAA if they are actively engaged in transporting goods across borders and play a direct and necessary role in the interstate flow of goods. It does not matter if their employer is a transportation company, bakery, retailer, or any other type of business.

This decision has major implications for transportation workers and direct store distributors fighting to be properly classified as employees with full legal rights and protections. By clearly stating an employer cannot force a transportation worker into arbitration simply because the company is not in the “transportation industry,” the Supreme Court removed a major hurdle to these workers pursuing misclassification claims and wage theft allegations in court. The ruling will benefit truck drivers, delivery drivers, distributors and potentially many other types of workers who transport goods.

However, the Court did not provide a definitive test for who qualifies as a “transportation worker.” The decision suggests the worker must cross state lines and transport goods between states, not just make local deliveries. The case was sent back to the lower courts to determine if the bakery distributors met this criteria. So while the decision is a positive development, there are still open questions about its scope.

If you work transporting or distributing goods and believe your rights have been violated, contact the experienced employment attorneys at Wanta Thome for a free consultation. Our firm has represented many delivery drivers and distributors in misclassification lawsuits against large companies. We can analyze your situation and advise you of your options for seeking justice.