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Fired trucker sues Little Tikes

By Betty Lin-Fisher
Beacon Journal business writer

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A Kent woman has filed a lawsuit against Little Tikes Co., saying her former employer fired her after she complained about the safety of her truck.

A Kent woman has filed a lawsuit against Little Tikes Co., saying her former employer fired her after she complained about the safety of her truck.

Jane Pietro was employed by the Hudson toy maker for more than 31 years, most recently as a truck driver for 25 years, said her attorney, Jay Linnen Jr. She was fired on June 6. The lawsuit was filed last week in Summit County Common Pleas Court and has been assigned to Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer.

Pietro sued the company under the state’s whistle-blower statute, which allows an employee to bring a civil suit if an employer takes disciplinary or retaliatory action against an employee who files a report of an incident that affects the health and safety of the public. There is also protection for an employee in the area of retaliation against a workers’ compensation complaint, said her lawyer. Pietro has a pending workers’ compensation claim for back injuries from driving a truck she alleged was in disrepair.

Little Tikes officials directed questions to the company’s legal department last week and did not make further comment.

Linnen said over the last year and a half, Pietro on several occasions had complained to her dispatcher that there were problems with the brakes on her truck, which she drove regionally and occasionally for long-distance trips.

The day before she was terminated, Pietro’s Little Tikes truck was subjected to a random inspection, which resulted in three violations, according to the lawsuit.

“Upon getting back to Little Tikes, her dispatcher accused her of pointing out the vehicle defects to the inspector. The next day, she was terminated,” said Linnen on Monday. “We believe there’s a connection between her complaints of the vehicle defects and her ultimate termination.”

Linnen said the company cited insubordination as the reason for her termination.

“There was a heated exchange between my client and her immediate supervisor, which is the dispatcher. My client says he was giving her a hard time because it didn’t pass a random inspection. They have a different view of why she was terminated. He claims she walked off.

“There may have been some profanity used by my client, but ultimately the motivation was the fact that she had made many complaints about the condition of her vehicle, the brakes and the condition of the tires,” said Linnen.

“This has been a very difficult situation for my client, who is a single parent, and she has had great difficulty in finding new, comparable employment. It just doesn’t make sense that she would have been terminated over a minor infraction, at best,” he said.

Pietro, who is in her 50s, is asking to be returned to her job, with back pay with interest, attorney fees, court costs and an order preventing the company from further retaliation.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.