Great news for gig economy businesses from an Illinois federal court: a judge recently ruled that Grubhub’s delivery drivers were not operating in “interstate commerce,” and therefore were not excluded from the company’s mandatory arbitration agreement. The March 28 ruling is one of the first decisions on this subject following January’s Supreme Court ruling casting this issue into doubt. While the fight is not over, round one goes to gig economy companies.
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?
After the Supreme Court ruled a few weeks ago that independent contractors working “in interstate commerce” were exempt from arbitration pacts due to a broad interpretation of the Federal Arbitration Act (New Prime v. Oliveira), I wrote a blog post about how labor law commentator Ross Runkel wondered whether gig business ride-share drivers and others would be able to extend that ruling in their favor and escape typical arbitration agreements. National Law Journal’s Erin Mulvaney followed this thinking by writing an article recapping how gig economy plaintiffs will soon be test-driving the New Prime decision to see if it can work in their favor. As she says, “already in the weeks since the ruling was issued, there are signs plaintiffs lawyers will use the opinion to reinforce their arguments that drivers who signed arbitration agreements should nonetheless be allowed to sue their employers in court.”
My colleagues Andy Scott and Felix Digilov reported on last week’s Supreme Court decision that rejected a trucking company’s effort to force its drivers to arbitrate their wage and hour claims against the company, despite the fact they had signed otherwise enforceable arbitration agreements (New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira). The reasoning behind that ruling? The SCOTUS held that the Federal Arbitration Act’s exemption that excludes “contracts of employment of workers engaged in interstate commerce” includes not only interstate transportation workers with employment agreements, but also those interstate transportation workers with independent contractor agreements. Now, a prominent labor law commentator posits whether this same decision could cause trouble for Lyft, Uber, and other gig economy companies.