Truck safety: Longtime Little Tikes driver says company retaliated

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer

Millions of parents around the world will watch children unwrap Cozy Coupe cars, wagons and other Little Tikes toys next week on Christmas morning. Any wheel, handle or other parts problem can be remedied with a quick call to Little Tikes’ free 1-800 number.

One longtime truck driver at the company, however, says Little Tikes wasn’t so responsive when she complained to them about numerous alleged safety issues with her truck.

For nearly 31 years, Jane Pietro worked for the Little Tikes Co., including 25 years of driving truck before she was fired in early June.

Pietro filed a civil lawsuit against the Hudson, OH-based toy manufacturing giant on Dec. 3 in Summit County (OH) Court.

The suit claims that Little Tikes’ safety violations were “a criminal offense likely to cause an imminent risk of physical harm to” both Pietro and a hazard to the “public health and safety of other motorists.”

In recent years, Pietro claims, Little Tikes “repeatedly ignored” her requests that the company perform maintenance and repairs for her company truck and trailers. Court documents allege that Little Tikes refused and sometimes substantially delayed maintenance on the trucks and trailers she drove.

Between January and June this year, Pietro informed the company 50 times in writing that she believed it was violating safety regulations enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, according to the suit.

The truck’s brakes and tires troubled Pietro, and in May she complained of health problems she tied to the ongoing issues with her company truck.

The safety issues appear to have reached a boiling point on June 3, 2012, three days before Pietro was terminated, when her truck was pulled over for a random inspection. During the inspection, the Transportation Department of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission issued three safety violations.

The next day, Pietro’s dispatcher reportedly accused the driver of pointing the safety issues out to the inspector, leading to a confrontation between the two and ultimately Pietro’s firing.

Pietro is suing under the state’s whistleblower protection law, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. According to court documents, Pietro believes she was terminated “as a result of her engaging in protected activity by reporting health and safety violations to her supervisor and upper-level management.”

The Little Tikes Co. did not respond to phone calls seeking comment for this story.

According to court documents, Pietro is asking for her old job back, as well as lost wages and attorneys’ fees and court costs.