Driver Reports Unsafe Truck, Gets Fired, Wins $115k Lawsuit


A trucker who was fired in retaliation for refusing to drive her unsafe rig has been awarded over $115,000 dollars in a case brought against her former employer. In addition to the monetary compensation, the judge also ordered that she be reinstated in her former position.

The suit was brought against Terry Unrein, an independent contractor in Oregon, after the driver was fired just days after refusing to drive a truck with inadequate tire treads in late 2011. She filed a whistleblower complaint to OSHA who was able to help her put together a case against Unrein.

According to Unrein, the driver was terminated after being in an accident, but no evidence was found to support that claim. As such, the driver’s termination was ruled a violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act’s employee protection provisions.

“We will enforce whistleblower provisions to the fullest extent of the law to protect employees, who should not be retaliated against for following the law,” said an OSHA administrator.

Though the driver was awarded $115,000 in back pay, Unrein is only responsible for paying as much as $2,600 of her attorney fees.

Unrein has filed an appeal to the decision.


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Source: overdrive, truckinginfo

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64 comments. Add a comment.

  1. John says

    Good for her! I have to wonder what trucking company would not want to be notified of a unsafe truck? If she had got into a accident because of unsafe equipment. She and the company would face far more serious actions. Given that OSHA was behind her on this, tells me this company should be investigated further. I myself would want a driver willing to reject a truck because they actually did a proper inspection. The person who should get fired is the trucking company.

    • KBill says

      The story said it was the owner of an independent owner. Probably one of those guys that have 3 to 5 trucks and don’t have the money to get it repaired right. Funny, my neighbor has 4 to 7 trucks on the road, and he doesn’t have any issue with fixing his trucks right. He is glad when his driver point out anything that could be dangerous.
      I’m glad the driver won the case, I hope it gets thru to the owner that he just can’t treat people or vehicles like that.

      • John says

        That’s just it, the earlier you catch a problem the easier and less expensive it is to fix.
        I feel lucky to be driving for a company that instantly rectifies or makes arrangements to get a unit fixed as soon as I report it and have NEVER questioned my decision to red tag a trailer or tractor, if I report it they WILL make immediate arrangements for repair wether empty or under a old it gets taken care of even if it means transloading to another trailer or repowering the load. and will even compensate me for time / miles lost. (usually $22 hr for every hr lost)

    • Tracy says

      I totally agree John. I would want a driver like that. She was not only protecting her own behind but also the company’s by potentially saving them from a lawsuit if an accident should occur. They should have given her a raise. In the end it would have been cheaper. I hope the company is investigated thoroughly because if they are putting unsafe trucks on the road you can imagine there is more to the story than just her blowing the whistle. 100,000 lbs is NOT a weight you want on the highways with the public in an unsafe condition.

  2. Ben says

    Same thing happened to me. A trucking company out of Greenville, Ohio issued me a truck they knew had a bad clutch and when I gave a failed daily inspection they fired me and then falsely accused me of walking away from the job. OSHA finally threatened them with an internal investigation and they folded like a cheap suit. Biggest part of victory is they can’t put any negative marks on my DAC report. Nowadays OSHA and the Federal Department Of Labor are the only protections a trucker has.

  3. Don says

    Unfortunately, as most drivers know who have been at it for longer than a month, this is not the normal progression of a driver’s career. For the most part, once a driver gets fired, nothing can be done about it. I also suspect part of this treatment has to do with the driver being female. I’m just glad I’m not out there any more. Trucking is still one of the worst jobs anyone can have.

    • Brandyjowo says

      It’s a shame you think trucking is one of the worst jobs. It’s a great industry that does a lot of good. I’ve known many professional drivers and great companies. Most of the people I know are Owner Operators, for them it’s a great career. If my children weren’t still little I’d have a truck and be on the road myself. Maybe you don’t agree but that’s my goal. I plan to get into a truck when they’re older. I’m hoping my husband will do the same and will team with me across country.

    • missjanenc says

      What does gender have to do with it? Maybe I need to reread the article because thought the issue was a retaliatory termination for reporting an unsafe vehicle. My bad.

      • Dave says

        Pretty sure Don meant she got fired when a man possibly wouldn’t have. He wasn’t being misogynistic, he was accusing the owner, Unrein, of it.

    • Allen says

      It could be, but as an industry that #### on the drivers (Look at the 90-125% annual turnover) I too place the vote that with 50+ years of working in various jobs and industries, being a driver is the WORST job I’ve EVER had (I’ve even cleaned up sewers and dead animals – those were better).

      Some of us have NO other options for various reasons and make the best of it, BUT that doesn’t change things. Clueless, apathetic management, shippers, receivers, legislators, special interest groups, motoring public, etc., morons wrapped up as imbeciles micromanaging something they have no clue about. This doesn’t even address how they #### on your family.

      For those considering a job in this industry I would say “RUN AWAY!!!!” Even if you’re a combat veteran it doesn’t compare to the #### you get from this industry (at least there you could give a moron a blanket party or wait until they eliminated themselves). Until there’s motivation to treat the drivers like they’re something more than a meat Popsicle and recognize they have a family and life this will continue. Over the past ten years I’ve been driving, I’ve worked for 5 companies. My current company I’ve been with almost 6 years. I talk with drivers from other companies to compare notes. Most drivers that have 3+ years in feel the same way.

      • Tracy says

        We all have the option do GET A DIFFERENT JOB. Why sit around and complain? Life is too darn short to live it in a miserable job. As a motorist I come across many drivers that you can tell are on a warpath with cars and light trucks because they hate their own job. It causes more road rage and Lord knows we don’t need any more of that, especially by those driving 100,000 lb weapons. Come on! If YOU don’t like the industry GET OUT and leave it to those who actually care about what it is they are doing. Go get a job where you can be happy and everyone around you will be happier for it.

  4. Penny says

    Boy oh boy, John. You start the comments off all right, from out in space. Drivers complain to management of trucking companies every day of the week about mechanical issues, any and all of which could be a factor in an accident-waiting-to-happen. The truck goes into the terminal shop, and the company mechanics – who suffer their own job issues from greedy employers – send the truck back out to the road, sometimes with problems unaddressed. I warned a friend of mine who went through the student training process in 2010 with a major carrier that the ‘industry’ had become a nightmare. After he started going solo, happy as a clam, the dream went sour, no surprise to me. He was almost killed when the power in his truck died. He had taken the rattle-can in for service with the company mechanics four times, when the carrier should have dished out real money to take it into a Freightliner shop instead. But they kept telling him, “It’s OK now.” He quit trucking. A no-brainer. Now this woman wins a lawsuit. Wanna bet the owner, filing an appeal to gain time, goes into bankruptcy or starts a new company under another name? She’ll never see a dime, and then she will find herself hounded when she can’t pay her lawyers. And wow, she is supposed to go back to work driving for this outfit? She’d better carry a hidden video camera and a microphone at all times, in and out of the truck.

  5. Creedmore Sharps says

    Seems that if more drivers were doing solid pretrip inspections, tales like this wouldn’t make the news. OO’s with their own equip, or drivers with dedicated equip have the luxury of knowing the equip inside and out. Company drivers working from a pool of trailers never know what they’ll be hooking up to. On the frequent occasions where the equip is substandard, we all need to stand our ground, take photos of the defects, and refuse to pull the unsat equip. I even send emails with photo attached to the safety team to establish a court useful document trail. The violation ticket cost, or jail time for negligent homicide outweighs the cost of not making a particular run.

    • missjanenc says

      Amen, Creedmore! Documentation is our friend. While I sometimes find cell phones a nuisance, the capability to quickly and easily take photographs or record video can be a game changer when it comes to covering your posterior, especially in situations where it’s your word against another person’s.

      • John says

        you sure got that right, I’ve even gone as far as send video to our safety Dpt of the situation while it was still happening. fortunately I work for a Company that will instantly act on my say so about equipment shortcomings and compensate me for time / miles lost, before I started with this major carrier I never thought I could ever drive for them and did not expect to be there very long, I am now almost to my 3rd year and the company still has lived up to it’s side and in fully backing me up when needed. they have proven beyond any doubt that they are more than just “talk the talk, they actually walk the walk”

  6. Doug says

    Every driver reading this has taken a load down the road in a truck or on a set of tires that a greenhorn like her would have complained about. The difference is that we knew we could easily make it there and back 50 times and she is spouting off what the people in her trade school told her last month. All this does is open the door for a plethora of BS lawsuits in Oregon , followed by labor laws like we have here in Maryland , where you have no rights. This is an “at will” state , meaning either party can terminate the employment agreement at any time with no legal retribution. Enjoy what’s coming down the pipe Oregon. You asked for it.

  7. John M says

    What a bunch of crap! At first I was excited to hear that the legal system is defending us truckers. This person won $115K law suite against her employer. WOW that’s great! Until you get to the end of the article and see that after this person was fired it took 2 years to win the case and they only got back pay. Who paid her bills for those 2 years?? And then you read that the employer was not responsible for paying all of her attorney fees. Then you read that her employer Unrein has filed an appeal to the decision. Who’s going to pay the attorney until she gets her $115K if she ever gets it? That was worth it! NOT!!

  8. Steve Bell says

    Years ago this happened to me…Ferrellgas…fired me for writing up the truck that I was driving for them…And a year or two latter Nature Coast Gas…fired me for getting called for Jury Duty….They said it was just a coincidence that they didn’t need me anymore after I was summoned…

    I never was able to get a job in the LP Gas Industry since…

    • John M says

      I worked for Ferrellgas for 2 months and every truck I got into I had to put it out of service, EVERY TRUCK!!
      Every truck failed the brake test and/or were way out of adjustment and had major leaks. Then my boss had the nerve to tell me it wasn’t my job to check the brakes and slack adjusters that was a maintenance thing. WHAT!!? We got into an argument over that. He said nowhere in to DOT regs does it say to check the slack adjusters. Okay, he’s right. But it does say you need to check your brakes and make sure they are in proper working order before you leave. That include checking your slack adjusters. The way I see it is, “If I can get fined for it, then I should have checked it.”
      I put my 2 week notice in and he was so mad he told me to go home that same day.

  9. corey jackson says

    I think that this judge should’ve ordered an investigation into this HHH and his company. OT seems as if he is probably operating a bunch of hoopties out on the road, putting the driver and everyone around those trucks in danger. I hope this lady has enlighten common sense to not go back to work someone who would fire her over something that was their fault to begin with. It’s people like this that make all of us truckers look bad. Glad I work for a family run company that takes safety and pride in their equipment and reputation.

  10. Alan says

    As a 30 year driver for UPS, I was forced to file 3 grievances through the Teamsters Union for unsafe working conditions back in 2012 over two exhaust leaks. My grievances were never heard. And when I refused to drive truck number 135072, I was promptly told that I would drive the truck or be terminated. Since my Union couldn’t make my grievances be heard, I doubted they could get my job back. After two years of breathing exhaust, I now have Diesel Asthma. I have a lawsuit filed in county court as workers comp should pay for my illness.
    By the way, that truck disappeared.

    • Pikes_Peak says

      Whatever you do, do not take a settlement if they offer it. Settlements are the courts way of letting you know you can have more by sticking it out, and winning in a courtroom. Drag them all the way through the court room, for you lifelong benefit.

  11. trailwinds says

    I believe it. I have worked for a company for two years and I have had about 10 trucks and only one did not have an air leak. I go to bed with 120 lbs pressure and wake up turn the key and the low air pressure warning buzzer goes off. Every truck except one.

    • Fred913 says

      Will the truck hold pressure when it is running?

      Do you do a leak test before putting the truck in motion? dose it pass the leak test? if it don’t, refuse to drive it. If it passes the leak test drive it is safe.

  12. macmov says

    Though she won the lawsuit, the one thing that troubles me is the fact the company obviously will continue there practices due to no or very little slap on the wrist. Read the summery, “Though the driver was awarded $115,000 in back pay, Unrein is only responsible for paying as much as $2,600 of her attorney fees.” What this poor driver receives will not even cover her attorney fees. What’s wrong with this picture?

  13. Pikes_Peak says

    Good for her, and more power to her. She knows her life is more important, and that an employer could care less.

  14. mikejca says

    As an owner of 10 trucks, 20 trailers and 8 drivers. I can tell you my 2 mechanics stay busy. Even the new petes I have suck. But from what I’ve seen it’s a combination of shitty pre post trip docs, scheduling and money. Sometimes it’s just busy and drivers wish to make money, company wants to make money. My drivers either do their dvirs or get fired. If they tell me they need a tire they go get one. The delivery isn’t that important it can’t wait a couple hours. Things like a short in a top marker light on a box trailer can be done on the weekend. But I’ve seen some drivers who are just wanting to cause problems. Or are just dumb as a box of rocks and shouldn’t even be behind the wheel of 40 tons.

  15. Jim says

    I’m sure this is no surprise to hear, but I ended up leaving Swift do to poorly maintained equipment and breakdowns. Could never make any money. I would ask for a new or newer truck, but they would come back saying the truck has a time frame before it’s retired out and sold… I asked when that day would be, but never got a straight answer. Also, I pretty much feared for my safety and the safety of others out on the road. Another reason why I left Swift.

    • Fred913 says


  16. Rob S says

    Only backpay, hardly any costs and no fine? Needs to hurt more. The feds need to prosecute, there are too many companies that hold the tacit threat of firing over the head of drivers for such things

  17. Thomas Johnson says

    What usually happens u get in an accident and the driver is cited and the company is held not at fault denies everything and the driver is fired and cant get a job they are replacable

  18. LTraves says

    I am glad she won and hope she continues to fight for what is right. I am a female owner of 3 Trucks along side my husband whom drives one and we have 2 drivers. Our trucks are Western Stars, one 01 and 2 o4’s If our driver’s tell us our truck needs anything, it is in the shop the same day, you don’t mess around with the safety of your employee’s or anyone else on the road, no matter the cost period. Our Truck’s and driver’s are what pay’s our bill’s and there’s. Safety first above all.

  19. Mike Castonguay says

    I am happy to drive for a family run company. They take pride in their trucks. I see it every day drive this truck or go home. Got to feel sorry for some drivers, they have a family to feed and need to work. So drive an unsafe truck or go home. But on the other hand some drivers like to complain about everything

  20. JJ says

    I am glad that I work for a firm out of Joplin,MO( most of you would know right off who I drive…I been driving for them here for several years now…I am glad to state that never once have they said drive the equipment as it is…in fact trailer, truck or equipment problem called into our road service is handled very professionally..I may have to wait on hold for a few minutes if its not an emergency(emergencies take presidence over non-emergency breakdowns etc, that Im okay with), basically your either sent a tow truck, mechanic on site, road service truck on site, sent to dealership or shop for repairs to be done for the truck or trailer, if not repaired same day your put up in a motel with breakdown pay, all paid for by the company. If the truck or trailer cannot safely roll than they will tow it in…I stay here for many reasons, the communication is very good, road service very good, trucks are descent/well maintained, a true open door policy, etc etc, and no Im not a recruiter Im a driver, like most all of you here. Every company can improve, but Im not going anywhere, its nice to know you have a company you can feel is your work home and has your back, especially they do not turn a deaf ear to you about equipment…sorry to hear this driver had this experience, I dont blame the driver for taking legal action, just it shouldnt be that way as most all of us know here…we now even have a trailer abuse reporting hotline(if you pickup a trailer that has been dropped off unswept, or defective equipment, you call the hotline and they will investigate and speak with the driver who dropped it off in such condition, so if your that will tell on you)..its not perfect here, but like I said Im here and have no plans to leave. They continue to work with any driver that complains of any equipment, and for any other reason for that matter…

  21. Mike says

    The last thing I would want if it were me , would be my job back with the carrier that fired her for reporting a maintenance issue.

  22. Moving Forward says

    It’s about time some of the shady owners/managers with today’s trucking companies get nailed for their bad decisions – they need to be held accountable! Congratulations to the driver involved, and I applaud her for having a spine to take that chance… versus the majority of people who would simply look the other way and move on.

  23. Dave says

    I hope she wins her appeal concerning the company paying her legal fees. These fees could possibly amount to nearly the $115K she was awarded. That would amount to a total loss of the back-pay she was awarded. What kind of justice would that be?

  24. steveman2 says

    I’m shocked at the response on this lawsuit. My life as an owner/operator is fantastic compared to these horror stories I’ve been reading about. I’m at a loss for words. I’m a regional operation, meaning I’m home every night. This is my second career, so I’ve only been trucking for 9 years, yet fortunate enough to put a new KW in service this past January. I work for one company that keeps me busy most of the year. The company is not a trucking company, but a consumer food supplier. Again, I’m at a loss for words that professional drivers have to endure the nightmares I’m reading on this subject. I must be one of the luckiest owner/operators on the planet.

    • Fuel Driver says

      I couldn’t agree more with your statement steveman2. Whenever I happen upon a case of my having the “poor me” syndrome. I read the experiences of some of these drivers that are simply trying to make a go of it in this industry…….but only seem to receive a slap in the face at every turn. My heart is out, and my hat off to the women and men having to deal with this sort of thing while simply trying to do a professional job and bring home a paycheck.

      Yes, I feel as if I must be one of the luckiest ones too, Steve…..and always try to never ever forget it. Thanks for the comment……..

  25. John says

    If OSHA comes to make inspections here, South Texas, they need to close almost 90% of truck yards. I went to a driving test, and the company safety manager was about to take the drive with me. The truck failed the brake test. I told him, ok, good catch, now let’s go to a good truck to do the test. His answer? there’s nothing wrong with this truck, just a little air leak. If you don’t want to drive it, you can leave now.
    -Are you serious?
    -Sure I am.
    Was not joking.

  26. ChrisK says

    Sorry you think trucking is the worst job ever, I have to disagree. I didnt finish college, so please tell me another job I can take home $3000 a week and only work around 30 weeks of the year.

  27. kirk says

    I agree with Allen tucking is the worst job out there!!! long hours little pay treated like crap, I get fingered daily from 4-wheelers, cut off, hours on hours sitting in docks no pay and after 10 years of this crap making min wage I left the industry and instead of making 40,00 a year and not being home to 90,000 a year!!!! with full benefits!!! good bye trucking!!!!

  28. donald says

    what it said to me she did a pretrip like all drivers are suppose to do she saw an unsafe condition and tried to get it fixed and they would not. why because in the companies best intrest they should of fixed it.we do a pretrip not for our safety . but for the safety of others ! and i will not kill anyone on the road because my company said it was safe. you are in control of who dies on the road and if you dont do a pretrip. and list problems then when you get in an accident. its all your fault not the company. your job is to make sure you deliver your loads but its also. to make sure the next door neighbors kids dont die .due to drivers being stupid and not making sure your truck is safe for you and all other drivers on the road. PRETRIP!,PRETRIP! it may save a life

  29. Philip Kraus says

    Attorneys, contact me! I still have time to get this handled legally!

    Same thing happened to me, but I got a bum rap on my OSHA whistleblower case. The investigator claimed he was 20 years retired NCIS (not true- he was never NCIS) and he kept telling me from the beginning that my case was going to lose, and it did, exactly as he predicted.

    I had a heat stroke, when a company (I was newly hired) put me in a truck that had no air conditioning, and they failed to get it fixed even after 4 attempts. I ended up in the hospital, and when I got out of the hospital, a longtime friend of the maintenance director (a member of the family who owns the trucking company) threatened me several times to not pursue administrative action against him.

    Lies were made up about me, and I was fired. I have not been able to work since, nd the company did not help me but slandered me GREATLY to OSHA and to the TN Dept of Labor, Work Comp division. I am homeless and have no money. Need help.

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