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Moba v. Total Transportation Services Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

April 25, 2014

AYNALEM MOBA, et al., Plaintiff,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Aynalem Moba, Cherinet Gebremichael, Mohamed Muhiddin, Habtom Tsegay, Gidez A Beraki, Berhe A Esayas, Issac Sebhatu, Halefa Gebrehiwet, Mossie Ghebreyesus, Ibrahim Elmi, Samson Kidane, Eyassu Fentea, Kyzza Musaz, Munye Adnan, Yemani Weldeslasie, Muluken Desalegn, Abraham Ghilamicael, Asrat Teklemriam, Samson Tsegay, Genenam Zewdie, Zelalem Chernet, Daniel Gebremichael, Abraham Habte, Amanuei Medhani, Mulugeta Girmay, All Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs: Lawrence A Hildes, LEAD ATTORNEY, BELLINGHAM, WA.

For All Plaintiffs, Plaintiff: Lawrence A Hildes, BELLINGHAM, WA.

For Seattle Freight Service Inc, Rick Livingston, Vance Rogers, Defendants: Lucy Russell Clifthorne, LEAD ATTORNEY, VANDEBERG, JOHNSON & GANDARA, TACOMA, WA.


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Marsha J. Pechman, Chief United States District Judge.


THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants Seattle Freight Services, Inc. (" Seattle Freight" ), Rick Livingston (" Livingston" ), and Vance Rogers' (" Rogers" ) Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiffs filed an opposition brief, in which they request a continuance pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). The Court considered the Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 30), Plaintiffs' Motion to Continue Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 42), the Reply (Dkt. No. 45), and all related documents. The Court DENIES Plaintiffs' Motion to Continue. The Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.


A. Seattle Freight

Seattle Freight provides freight transportation to national and international carriers. (Dkt. No. 32 at 1.) About half its business is transporting freight arriving at the Port of Seattle or the Port of Tacoma. (Id.) The remainder of the business is delivering and picking up freight throughout the Pacific Northwest. (Id.) Rick Livingston (" Livingston" ) is the Operations Manager (Id.), and Vance Rogers (" Rogers" ) was Vice President from 2008 to 2013. (Dkt. No. 31 at 1.)

Independently owned operators (" IOOs" ) lease their trucks through a Transportation and Lease Agreement (" TLA" ) and operate under Seattle Freight's authority for the term of the lease. (Dkt. No. 32 at 2.) In 2010, at the " height" of Seattle Freight, 120 to 125 IOOs had lease agreements with Seattle Freight. (Dkt. No. 31 at 2.)

B. Terms and Conditions of Agreement Between IOOs and Seattle Freight

Seattle Freight dispatchers offer jobs to IOOs who have a current TLA after a customer contacts Seattle Freight with a job. (Dkt. No. 32 at 2.) IOOs are free to accept or reject the offers. (Id.) If an IOO accepts a job, the IOO may perform the job or delegate it to one of the IOO's employees. (Id.) Many of the assignments for the next day are posted the day before. (Id.) If an IOO does not have an assignment, he or she has the option to wait at Seattle Freight for last minute jobs and typically leaves by noon if no job has become

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available. (Id.) Assignments are first offered to " senior drivers" (Dkt. No. 34 at 14), and the remaining jobs " [are] offered in rotation" to the rest of the IOOs. (Dkt. No. 31 at 2.)

Plaintiffs are IOOs of East African ethnicity who leased their trucks to Seattle Freight for short-distance freight hauling between the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation (" BNSF" ) rail terminals and the Port of Seattle. (Dkt. No. 32 at 2.) Nine companies, including Seattle Freight, provide these services to BNSF. (Id.)

IOOs are paid " per job" - they do not have a salary or a fixed commission. (Dkt. No. 32 at 3.) IOOs can buy several trucks and hire drivers in order to increase their profit, or they can accept longer-haul jobs. (Id.) IOOs receive checks on a bi-monthly basis after Seattle Freight calculates the jobs performed and deducts charges for leasing a company radio or purchasing insurance through Seattle Freight, if applicable. (Id.)

C. 2012 Work Stoppage

In February 2012, about 80 IOOs, including Plaintiffs, " engaged in a coordinated work refusal" for two weeks. (Dkt. No. 31 at 3.) Plaintiff Aynalem Moba (" Moba" ) and six other people gave requests to Seattle Freight, and Moba maintains their requests involved payment structures, as well as alleged discriminatory conduct they were subject to. (Dkt. No. 34 at 16-17.) Moba contends after he returned to work, Livingston was telling the other drivers Moba was a liar and was brainwashing them. (Id. at 20.) Moba also alleges Livingston reduced Moba's amount of work. (Id.) Records indicate and Moba agrees he made more money in 2012 than he did in 2011. (Id. at 21, 27) He also retained his senior driving status for a few months after the work stoppage. (Id. at 27.)

Defendants contend Plaintiffs did not stop working because of discriminatory conduct and any adverse treatment that may have occurred after the stoppage was not a result of discriminatory treatment or retaliation. (Dkt. No. 30 at 17; Dkt. No. 32 at 4.) Livingston said the " only issues the IOOs raised with Seattle Freight in early 2012 were about payment structure." (Dkt. No. 32 at 5.) Rogers agrees, stating he was present at a meeting where Moba presented requests involving the payment structure and " nothing was said about any allegedly discriminatory treatment." (Dkt. No. 31 at 4.) Rogers alleges the work stoppage " had a serious impact on BNSF[,]" and, as a result, " BNSF responded to the incident by giving more of its work to other trucking companies, resulting in a significant reduction in the local work available to Seattle Freight IOOs." (Id. at 3.) Further, the " Grand Alliance," which brought four steamship lines into the Port of Seattle, moved to the Port of Tacoma, causing reduced short-haul work for Seattle Freight. (Dkt. No. 32 at 4.) Despite reduced short-haul work, Seattle Freight did not terminate any TLAs. (Id.) When TLAs were up for renewal, Plaintiffs who wanted their TLAs renewed did have them renewed. (Id.) Seattle Freight also offered non-short-haul jobs to Plaintiffs. (Id. at 4-5.)

D. Alleged Discriminatory Conduct

Moba alleges Defendants acted in a discriminatory manner towards Plaintiffs. (Dkt. No. 34 at 11.) Moba alleges Defendants said they were inferior, should go back to school, and should take an English language class. (Id.) Moba also alleges Plaintiffs were referred to as scavengers, animals, and the " N" word. (Id. at 11, 16.) Rogers says Seattle Freight did not have a culture of bias, bigotry, or racial animus: " I ...

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