Gig economy companies received bad news yesterday when yet another federal appeals court ruled that delivery drivers – even independent contractors – can escape otherwise valid arbitration agreements. This is now the third federal appeals court to conclude that the “transportation worker” exemption in the Federal Arbitration Act should be read broadly enough to exempt typical gig economy workers, setting up a split in the circuits that has businesses operating across the country scratching their heads on how to proceed. What do gig economy companies need to know about the 9th Circuit’s ruling against Amazon.com?
A federal appeals court just handed Grubhub – and gig economy companies in general – a pivotal victory by narrowly interpreting an exception allowing certain transportation workers (including independent contractors) to escape arbitration agreements. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals joined a Massachusetts federal court by ruling that gig workers cannot avoid arbitration provisions by claiming they are exempt transportation workers. But what makes this ruling the most significant yet is not just simply because it came from a federal appeals court instead of a lower district court, but because of the wide-sweeping rationale used to justify the decision. What do gig economy businesses need to know about this ruling?
A Massachusetts federal court just ruled that gig workers cannot escape arbitration provisions by claiming they are exempt transportation workers. The September 30 decision in Austin v. DoorDash marks the second win for gig businesses following a troubling Supreme Court ruling in January 2019 that opened the door to a possible arbitration exemption. However, there remain other federal courts that have ruled for workers on this issue, and the Massachusetts court even indicated there could have been worker victory had the fact pattern been slightly different, so companies are not out of the woods on this issue by a long shot.
A federal appeals court decided last week that ride-share drivers engaging in interstate commerce while performing work for Uber should not be subject to the company’s arbitration agreement because of a recent Supreme Court ruling broadly interpreting a federal law exemption that applies to independent contractors. This September 11 ruling threatens to upend a pivotal tool that many businesses use to better manage workplace litigation and requires all gig businesses operating near state borders to take notice.
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?
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?
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.
It was just a matter of time. After the Supreme Court cleared the way for businesses to use class waivers with their employees and contractors with the Epic Systems ruling this past May, many observers expected that the decision would come back to haunt a class of Uber drivers who wanted to litigate a class action misclassification case against the ride-sharing company in court. Earlier today, sure enough, the other shoe dropped.