Bakery distribution drivers sued Bimbo Foods Bakeries Distribution LLC claiming they were misclassified as independent contractors. The bakery fought back with its own counterclaim, arguing workers should repay monies earned as independent contractors to offset damages if the bakery was found to have misclassified the workers.

However, a federal judge in Vermont on Dec. 5 ruled against the bakery, the US Department of Labor reported. The court noted Bimbo was trying to benefit from its allegedly unlawful misclassification, according to the department, and found the US Fair Labor Standards Act does not allow for state law counterclaims where they cut against the act’s central purpose.

In addition, the court recognized counterclaims such as this would give employers incentive to violate wage laws and then seek reimbursement for those violations, the department said. It also reported that the court pointed out such a counterclaim might discourage workers from asserting their rights.

“The court’s dismissal of Bimbo Bakeries’ counterclaim is a significant decision that strengthens the rights of workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act,” Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said in a press release. “The Department of Labor will always be concerned when an employer engages in conduct that discourages employees from raising their voices. This includes retaliation, coercive employment terms or — as the court recognized here — illegal attempts to assert counterclaims against workers who may have legitimate claims for unpaid wages.”

The workers’ lawsuit includes drivers in Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

SIA has reached out to Bimbo Foods for comment.

Bimbo Foods Bakeries Distribution LLC is affiliated with Bimbo Bakeries USA, the nation’s largest commercial baking company, according to the department.

The case is Arthur Provencher, Michael McGuire and Ronald Martel on behalf of a class v. Bimbo Bakeries USA Inc. and Bimbo Foods Bakeries Distribution LLC, US District Court for the District of Vermont, 2:22-cv-198.