Drivers for Uber Black Car Service Aren’t Employees, Judge Rules

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Jon Steingart

Drivers for Uber’s high-end black car service aren’t employees entitled to minimum wage or overtime, a federal judge ruled.

The decision is the first judicial determination on the classification of UberBLACK drivers. Whether gig workers are correctly classified as contractors or employees is a long-running issue. Companies have generally beat back or settled such disputes without a definitive finding.

The settlements can include eye-popping amounts, such as the $27 million figure Lyft and drivers in March jointly said was proceeding on schedule, and the $100 million Uber settlement that a judge rejected as too small.

The drivers aren’t employees because the company doesn’t exercise sufficient control over them, Judge Michael M. Baylson said in the most recent case. The terms under which Uber and the black car service drivers operate spell out a number of ways in which the company isn’t allowed to control their work, Baylson said. For example, the company doesn’t require them to work a minimum number of hours or mandate uniforms, he said.

Baylson rejected driver Ali Razak’s contention that the company’s decision to deactivate him following a conviction for driving while intoxicated was an exercise of control. It was an expression of its sense of responsibility toward customers, the judge said.

Degree of control is a crucial factor in worker classification cases. A judge ruled in February that Raef Lawson, a former delivery driver for food ordering service Grubhub, was correctly classified as an independent contractor rather than as an employee because he operated with a large amount of independence. Lawson’s misclassification case was the first to reach trial and was seen as a bellwether because the San Francisco-based U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in the heart of the gig economy, is where many similar cases are filed.

The case is Razak v. Uber Techs., Inc., 2018 BL 127756, E.D. Pa., No. 16-573, summary judgment 4/11/18.

Request Labor & Employment on Bloomberg Law