A U.S. District court judge does not seem fully convinced that Uber drivers are independent subcontractors and not employees, and may send the case to a jury to find out.
In a San Francisco, CA. district court summary judgment hearing, district judge Edward Chen heard the arguments of Uber Technologies, Inc. that the drivers' claims should be dismissed because they are not employees, but are customers of Uber’s software platform, much like the passengers who “receive a service from Defendant,” according to Uber’s motion for summary judgment.
Judge Chen said that in order for him to grant Uber summary judgment, he’d have to “find that no reasonable jury could conclude that Uber drivers aren’t employees, and that’s a pretty tough standard,” as reported on Law 360.
Uber drivers Douglas O’Connor and Thomas Colopy brought suit claiming that they, and others similarly situated, are employees of Uber who are mis-classified as independent contractors. The independent contractor designation requires them to cover their employment expenses “including expense for their vehicles [and] gas,” according to their complaint.
The drivers also claim they are employees because of their full integration into Uber’s business, without which Uber would not exist. They are also required to follow “a litany of detailed requirements imposed on them by Uber,” which they are then graded on and subject to termination if they do not meet the requirements, according to the complaint.
Drivers who register or apply for an account on the Uber website, which references drivers as “partners” and an “independent contractor,” use their own vehicles to pick up passengers sent to them via the Uber app after the passenger uses the same app to request a ride.
Uber likened itself more to a “lead-generator” than an employer at the hearing. However, Judge Chen seems to think “drivers are serving Uber” and that Uber does more than sell an app, and actually has some control over the work of the drivers including screening them, setting rates, and terminating drivers, according to Bloomberg.
Uber filed a motion to keep several documents under seal, including emails regarding the termination of a driver in which a manager called him “F-ING HORRIBLE” and called for his termination. Another email reading “Done via phone! Remote banning – I love it” showed that Uber had control to terminate drivers. Judge Chen denied the motion to file under seal, but granted the employees names to be stricken from the emails, according to the order.
O’Connor and Colopy’s attorney, Shannon Liss-Riordan, who also represented FedEx drivers now ruled as employees, said that the “ability to terminate at will” is a key factor in other California Labor cases, and Uber’s ability to terminate drivers is “right there in the contract.”
Judge Chen ended the hearing without issuing a ruling, but Liss-Riordan reported to Johana Bhuiyan of Buzzfeed news that she believes the case will likely go to a jury believing it was “very clear Judge Chen will deny Uber’s motion.”
The case is O'Connor et al. v. Uber Technologies Inc. et al., U.S. District Court for Northern District of California, case no. 3:13-cv-03826 - Motion of defendant Uber Technologies, Inc. for Summary Judgment
Douglas O’Connor and Thomas Colopy are represented by Shannon Liss-Riordan of Lichten & Liss-Riordan, P.C.