FARGO — Current and former local paratransit drivers could be part of a nationwide lawsuit being brought against the company that provides contracted driver services to the cities of Fargo and Moorhead through Metro Area Transit, or MATBUS.
Paul Sire, 45, of Fargo, said he recently received a notice to join the lawsuit as a former employee of First Transit, Inc., based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
He was a contracted MAT Paratransit driver for four years, transporting people with disabilities in Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead and Dilworth.
Sire said he’s not much of a “lawsuit guy,” but plans to join in the suit, which aims to recover monetary damages for unpaid wages related to "scheduled gaps," or time drivers spent doing other tasks between rides.
“They did do a lot of that. It’s a big reason why I quit there,” Sire said.
The lawsuit, filed in September 2018 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claims violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Brought by Robert Stewart of Philadelphia, it invites other paratransit drivers like him who have worked for First Transit since March 18, 2016, to join.
The lawsuit claims drivers were assigned scheduled gaps — some more than 90 minutes long.
During that time, drivers had to stay within sight of their vehicle, remain available to dispatchers, refrain from using their personal cell phone, maintain records of any incidents involving their vehicle, and guard the fares kept in their vehicle, among other things.
According to the lawsuit, First Transit did not pay paratransit drivers all wages owed for time worked during scheduled gaps.
Sire gave this example: A paratransit driver might be at work for 10 hours on any given day, but only paid for 8 hours because of those gaps.
“There’s always going to be some downtime, but at what point does the employee have to continue to eat it?” Sire said.
In court documents, First Transit denies allegations of unpaid wages, and claims all drivers have been properly paid for their work.
A request for comment from local First Transit employees was referred to company headquarters in Ohio.
The Forum’s phone calls and emails to First Transit and its parent organization, FirstGroup America, were not returned.
Similar requests to attorneys representing Stewart also were not answered.
Matthew Peterson, Fargo's assistant transit director, said MAT Paratransit has 15 transport vehicles and 10 to 12 drivers working each weekday.
According to court documents, First Transit employees have 30 days from the date of notification to decide whether to opt in to the lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial.
First Transit must notify the court no later than May 31 about the number of employees who have opted in and their employment locations.