Over the last few years, new laws regarding distracted driving have been added all across the nation as many Americans are simply using their mobile devices constantly. A 2016 California-based survey indicated that 44% of people feel that texting while driving is the most dangerous form of distracted driving. Over 50% of respondents stated that they had been involved in a collision, or nearly in a crash because another driver was using a mobile device. In fact, the problem is so worrisome that an Israeli company is creating a textalyzer that law enforcement agencies hope to use one day. The textalyzer, named after the breathalyzer, will be able to determine if a motorist was on his phone at or around the time of an accident. Given these concerns, it’s no wonder people are worried about responding to their phone while driving.
Thomas Aylott, a 53-year-old former employee of Western Transportation, filed a civil suit against the company in San Diego Superior Court. The claim alleges that he was fired from his job after angering his boss by his unwillingness to text and drive. Dan Gilleon, Aylott’s lawyer, says the company’s actions could impact public safety, as their drivers may be traveling with loads weighing 80,000 pounds. Aylott explained that he feared injuring or killing someone while driving and distracted with the phone for work purposes. He received two text messages from his supervisor while driving and on both occasion, he did not respond until after his next stop. When the supervisor asked why there was a delay in responding, Aylott explained that he did not text while driving; however, he had his phone setup with Bluetooth for legal “hands free” usage via phone call.
Aylott was hired in 2014 as a Project & Safety Manager, which required considerable vehicle travel throughout his assigned region to meet customers, manage job sites, and supervise employees. The company’s written safety policy reflects current laws that prohibit text messaging and required “hands free” usage of mobile devices while operating a vehicle. In 2016, the company hired James Cloud as the general manager for the region, who ultimately terminated Aylott. On the occasions when the manager sent him a text, Aylott requested that Cloud call rather than text him when needing a fast response. A verbal confrontation occurred on one such occasion where Cloud stated that Aylott needed to respond to text messages while driving “like everybody else.”
Following the interaction with his supervisor, Aylott contacted higher management, feeling that they may need to intervene. A week later, Cloud called him into the office and fired him. During that exchange, Cloud allegedly said that Aylott was “too old to change his ways,” citing his refusal to check text messages while driving. After being terminated, he contacted the company COO, John F. Sullivan III, to discuss the situation. Sullivan explained that he was not going to interject in his new manager’s personnel decisions, yet wrote Aylott a letter of reference summarizing him as hardworking and honest, among other things.
The civil claim asserts that the company fired him for refusing to text and drive, which is a violation of Labor Codes 11102.5. In addition, the claim insists that the company rules and policies violate “whistleblower” provisions within 1102.5 of the Code. Aylott says the actions led to significant economic damages including losses of wages and benefits, as well as non-economic damages including mental distress, humiliation, and anxiety. Beyond seeking recovery for those damages, the claim explains that based on the retaliatory nature of the actions and intentional disregard for his rights, punitive damages are appropriate in the case.
ABC News 10 in San Diego spoke with a company legal officer who reiterated that the company policy prohibits texting while driving. He said the organization is committed to safe practices and has maintained a solid safety record. Company personnel was advised not to comment on this pending legal matter; however, the statement denied that the plaintiff was terminated for the texting dispute and said Aylott is basically using media outlets to gain leverage in pursuit of a settlement. He further stated that the claim lacks “evidentiary support” and should not prevail in a trial.
Here in Colorado, penalties for sending or receiving text messages while operating a vehicle include a $50 fine and one point added to the individual’s driving record. Subsequent offenses lead to increased fines and points. The law states that a violation occurs when texting while driving if the driver is deemed to be doing so in a manner that demonstrates carelessness. Regardless if your employer wants it or not, in Colorado, you cannot text and drive even if it is for work purposes.