Last week, we shared with you the news of Uber’s proposed $20 million settlement to resolve a long-running misclassification claim – the parties agreed to the deal, and they just needed the approval of a federal court judge (read the entire post here). Of course, nothing is finalized until it’s signed, and the parties to this particular claim know that all too well; after all, they thought they had a $100 million settlement in place in April 2016 before the same judge nixed the proposed deal as not being “fair, adequate, and reasonable” to the class of drivers. This week, that judge signaled there could be another fly in the ointment, and its name is Dynamex.
Lyft recently filed for an initial public offering with the hopes of raising as much as $2.1 billion. As part of its registration statement for its IPO, Lyft acknowledged the company could be negatively impacted by several potential business risks. The filing acknowledged not only increased and intense competition from competitors, but also the specter of litigation across the country as drivers contest their classification as independent contractors and the applicability of Lyft’s arbitration agreement. Within its S-1, Lyft cited lawsuits disputing the employment status of its drivers – as well as new municipal regulations – as potential risks that investors should consider when evaluating the company.
The $100 million settlement announced Monday by a transportation company to resolve a long-running misclassification claim might be the direct result of a January Supreme Court decision, and might be a troubling harbinger of things to come for many gig economy businesses. Swift Transportation paid the massive sum to a group of drivers who claimed they were improperly classified as “owner-operator” contractors when they should have been treated as employees, but only agreed to the deal after it became clear that recent legal precedent from the SCOTUS meant that they could not resolve the dispute in arbitration. What does this settlement signal for gig economy businesses in general?
When the news broke today that Uber had agreed to pay a group of drivers $20 million to settle a long-running misclassification claim, you could be forgiven for thinking that the deal sounded like a massive blow to the gig economy giant. After all, $20 million is a substantial sum – no matter how large a company is – and in most cases would be an indication that the paying party had given in to the exorbitant demands of the claimants. But this settlement is different. It resolves a claim that Uber had originally agreed to settle for $100 million – five times the amount of the final total. How did Uber get such a bargain?
Ever since Uber became part of our everyday world, the mandatory arbitration agreement it requires its independent contractor drivers to sign has been under constant scrutiny—and attack. A recent decision, however, fell in the gig economy company’s favor, presenting a good lesson for all gig economy companies.
Regular readers of this blog know about the Grubhub gig economy misclassification litigation. The quick version: Grubhub squared off with a former driver, Raef Lawson, in the nation’s first-ever gig economy misclassification trial in late 2017, leading to a victory for Grubhub in February 2018. Things took a turn for the worse in April 2018 when the California Supreme Court dropped a bombshell and changed the misclassification standard with its infamous Dynamex decision, which ushered in the notorious ABC test, and Lawson’s attorneys quickly pounced and argued that he should now be declared the victor given the new standard. Lawson filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and filed his opening brief in November 2018, and Grubhub filed its Response in January.