Last week, something happened in one of the few class action cases that people may have actually heard of or care about, involving the ride-hailing company that everyone loves to both hate and use, Uber. A California judge certified a class action of Californian Uber drivers, as they try to show that they’re employees of the company, and not just independent contractors.
The case, which started with three plaintiffs but could have up to 160,000 (!!) revolves around the employment status of Uber’s drivers. This could mean quite the chunk of change. Uber has claimed throughout that their drivers are merely contractors, “partners” in their business, who have to pay for their own gas and car maintenance, even in the line of duty, as well as Social Security and Medicare payments, workers’ compensation, and all of the other legal inconveniences that could prevent a $50 billion company from surviving. Additionally, as they’re mere contractors, Uber can also “share” the driver’s profits, including their tips.
The decision to certify the class comes from the same Californian judge who denied Uber’s motion for summary judgment back in March. In that ruling he rolled his eyes at the company’s feeble attempts to make its business plans comport to a shade of legal legitimacy. To wit, Uber claimed:
- That Uber made most of its money from “sharing” its driver’s fees, but that it was in the “technology business,” not the transportation business,
- That Uber had no control over how its drivers acted while on the road, but that they should absolutely most definitely text potential riders when they were about a minute away from picking them up, play light jazz or NPR on the radio (at low volume), and open the door for riders, holding an umbrella, when necessary, should not drive past or U-turn within sight of a potential rider when picking them up, and
- That Uber allowed drivers to refuse ride requests whenever they wanted to, but that it also threatened to fire a driver for refusing ride requests more than 20% of the time.
The creation of the class action, however, stirs up problems of its own. Chief among them is that currently there’s more disunity in the class than unity. The original suit involved three drivers, who now claim to speak for the interests of all Uber drivers in California. However, the court has on hand, the testimony of 400 Uber drivers who disagreed with everything these three stand for in the case. I Facebooked through most of Civ. Pro. II, but I don’t think that’s what commonality means.
Further, the creation of the class action does nothing to help the named plaintiffs. The legal issues remain the same, regardless of how many there are. It does, however, make certain that Californian Uber drivers who want in on the action go through the attorney for the three plaintiffs, Shannon Liss-Riordan, who, oh, by the way, is trying to certify a similar class action in a case against Uber wannabe, Lyft. Of course, having more people in the class puts more stress on Uber to avoid a cataclysmic verdict, and push them towards settling and paying a cushy attorney fee, which was the whole point of this exercise, anyway.
As expected, Uber has said they would appeal, to try drowning the case in legal-sized paper.
[Post image via Gong To/Shutterstock.com]