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By: R. Eddie Wayland, TCA General Counsel
In this case, the driver, who was no longer employed by the carrier, claimed to have trouble finding employment because of a negative remark on a report concerning his driving record published by a consumer reporting agency. The information for the negative remark was supplied to the consumer reporting agency by the carrier. The driver filed a lawsuit concerning the “reinvestigation” done by the carrier to see if the negative remark was accurate.
Background of the Case
The over-the-road truck driver was employed by the carrier from March to December 2011. The carrier had a practice of providing information to a consumer reporting agency that, in turn, used the information to publish reports on truck drivers’ driving records. Following the end of the driver’s employment with the carrier, the carrier reported to the consumer reporting agency that the driver did not meet the company’s safety standards.
The driver took issue with this report on the basis that he “has no accidents/incidents listed on the report,” and claimed that the report was dissuading employers from hiring him. The consumer reporting agency requested that the carrier provide support for its statement and check its records to determine if the report was accurate.
One of the carrier’s human resources employees investigated the statement made to the consumer reporting agency. The carrier’s human resources employee reviewed the driver’s file and found record of a July 2011 incident in which the driver received a written warning from a police officer for driving between six and ten miles per hour over the posted speed limit. The file included records indicating that the carrier placed the driver on a six-month probation based on this incident. The human resources employee also found records demonstrating that the carrier’s speed-monitoring systems reported several instances of the driver driving in excess of four miles per hour over the speed limit. Records revealed the driver received a “Serious Warning” from the carrier based on this data.
The carrier maintained a policy by which it considered driving at speeds of more than four miles per hour over the posted speed limit to be an unsafe driving practice. Based on this policy and the information found in the driver’s record, the carrier reported to the consumer reporting agency that its statement that the driver did not meet the company’s safety standards was accurate.
The driver sued the carrier under the provision of the Fair Credit Report Act which requires a furnisher of information to undertake a reasonable investigation into the disputed information. Courts have found that “[a] ‘reasonable’ investigation ‘is one that a reasonably prudent person would undertake under the circumstances,” and further that “how thorough an investigation must be to be ‘reasonable’ turns on what relevant information was provided to a furnisher by the [consumer reporting agency] giving notice of the dispute.”
The trial court ruled in favor of the carrier and the driver appealed. On appeal, the federal court of appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court and ruled in the carrier’s favor. The court found that it was not unreasonable for the carrier to focus on whether there were incidents of record that supported the report it made to the consumer reporting agency. Further, the court was not persuaded by the driver’s claim that he never received any written warnings from the carrier at the time of the alleged speeding incidents. The court pointed out that because the driver did not make this claim known to the carrier prior to the investigation, the human resources employee conducting the investigation had no basis upon which to think that the driver was disputing as much and thus the investigation was reasonable. Accordingly, the appeals court concluded that the driver failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that the carrier’s reinvestigation was unreasonable as he was required to do.
This case highlights the obligation on carriers to ensure that the information given to consumer reporting agencies is accurate and how a carrier may be required to “reinvestigate” such information to ensure its validity. Carriers should be careful when sharing negative information about drivers and should be diligent in making sure all information shared is accurate, and that there is corresponding supporting documentation to the extent available.
R. Eddie Wayland is a partner with the law firm of King & Ballow. You may reach Mr. Wayland at (615) 726-5430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The foregoing materials, discussion and comments have been abridged from laws, court decisions, and administrative rulings and should not be construed as legal advice on specific situations or subjects.
August 23, 2016