TriMet driver in June fare dispute retires to avoid dismissal
TriMet bus driver Claudeen Hendren has retired rather than face termination following an incident last month in which she forced a mother and her four children off a bus in Forest Grove.
On Thursday, TriMet officials issued a statement stating that Hendren did not respond appropriately to the incident and the agency was prepared to fire her.
Hendren was unavailable for comment. A representative of the union representing TriMet drivers said Thursday that Hendren was very upset and plans to file a labor complaint against TriMet.
Jeff Ackerson, an Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 board member, said that Hendren, 67, was forced to retire because if she would have lost her medical benefits if she was terminated. Ackerson said Hendren was following TriMets procedure for incidents involving fare evasion when she got into a heated argument with a rider in Forest Grove.
I dont think it was fair and I dont think it was just, Ackerson said, adding that he was speaking for himself and not the union. As far as Im concerned, I dont see how she did anything wrong.
Ackerson spoke to Hendren Thursday and she is making plans to file a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries because of TriMets actions.
The last straw
Hendrens possible dismissal was the final act in a series of rider complaints during the past decade. Last fall, Hendren gained national attention when she ordered a Forest Grove mother with a crying baby off a bus in Hillsboro. Several passengers on that bus got off in protest of Hendrens actions. She was suspended for 10 days after the incident, and told that any future complaints could lead to her dismissal.
The latest confrontation happened late at night on June 7, when Hendren, who was driving the Line 57 bus, got in an argument with passenger Maria Ruiz of Cornelius about an expired bus fare. The argument became so heated that Ruizs children began to cry. The only other passenger on the bus, a Beaverton man, flagged down a passing Forest Grove patrol officer to help in the situation.
An investigation into the June 7 incident found that Ruiz tried to board the bus with expired fare, and when Hendren asked her to pay, Ruiz went to the back of the bus and sat down with her children. Hendren turned in her seat and asked Ruiz to pay. Hendren and Ruiz then started arguing. Ruiz said she told Hendren she was getting her money out to pay.
Michael Canoy, the other passenger on the bus, then also started yelling at Ruiz for being disrespectful to Hendren. He called 9-1-1 at Hendrens request, and then got off the bus to flag down a Forest Grove patrol officer.
When police officer Ernesto Villaraldo got on the bus, Ruiz and her children were all distressed and crying. Hendren said she couldnt drive the bus with crying children. Villaraldo drove the family to their Cornelius home.
TriMet officials could not review a video of the June altercation, as the tape was taped over before they were made aware of the dispute.
TriMet Executive Director of Operations Shelly Lomax said the incidents with Hendren do not reflect the level of customer service the agency expects from its employees.
This incident and how the operator handled the situation is not representative of the vast majority of our operators who deliver excellent customer service every day, Lomax said.