Amazon Beats Class Action, but Joint Employer Issue Remains (1)

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By Jacklyn Wille and Hassan A. Kanu

Amazon.com Inc. is free from class claims in a delivery driver’s lawsuit seeking wages, overtime, and relief for other alleged labor violations, but the company didn’t settle a question that could expose it and other major businesses to significant liability.

The California driver can’t seek class status because the proposed class members—current and former joint employees of Amazon and various staffing companies that were subject to the company’s delivery guidelines—didn’t have enough in common, a federal judge ruled Dec. 6.

Judge Maxine M. Chesney of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California also seemed to leave room for a finding that Amazon is a “joint employer” of Jasmine Miller, along with a company called 1-800 Courier. Although the case is being reviewed under California labor law, a joint employment finding would mean both Amazon and the courier company are Miller’s formal employers, a precedent that would implicate any major business that regularly uses contracted or subcontracted labor in California and any state with similar ‘joint employer’ laws.

Miller’s working conditions as an alleged joint employee of Amazon and staffing company 1-800 Courier might not match the working conditions of drivers at other Amazon contractors that are alleged to be jointly employed, according to the judge. She therefore failed a test for class action status that says all the putative class members need to have faced essentially the same conditions and experiences.

The driver was represented by Cohelan Khoury & Singer and Law Offices of Ronald A. Marron APLC. Amazon was represented by Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP. Neither firm responded to requests for comment.

‘Joint Employer’ Question Persists

Amazon was less successful in defeating the driver’s substantive allegations, many of which survived the online retailer’s motion to dismiss. The worker is moving forward with allegations that she was denied minimum wages, overtime wages, meal breaks, rest periods, and accurate wage statements.

Chesney gave Miller until Jan. 4, 2019, to amend her class complaint.

The judge added that a “question likely exists as to whether Amazon is in fact a joint employer"—an issue that’s typically settled by assessing how much control one business has over the working terms and conditions of employees at a different company.

Amazon had contested some of Miller’s factual evidence for the joint employer allegation in a previous motion, including that “she drove a vehicle and wore a uniform with ‘Amazon’s logo”'; that Amazon controlled her schedule through “electronic devices it issued,” and had the power to discipline and terminate.

But Amazon is no longer challenging the “sufficiency of Miller’s allegations that 1-800 Courier and Amazon” were her joint employers, Chesney wrote in a footnote.

The company is facing lawsuits in other jurisdictions seeking to hold it liable as a joint employer of contractor’s workers. Many other companies—most notably McDonald’s LLC—are keeping a keen eye on the issue.

Federal laws were reinterpreted by President Barack Obama’s administration to make it easier to hold multiple companies as joint employers. President Donald Trump’s nominees at the federal labor board and Department of Labor have indicated they might change those standards in 2019.

The case is Miller v. Amazon.com Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 3:17-cv-03488, 12/6/18.

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