Uber is a company that dictates how a large number of car owners pick up passengers, where they take them, how they take them there, the condition of the vehicle those people get put in, and the pay they earn, but it does not consider those drivers to be its employees.
As you can imagine, this has led to quite a few lawsuits.
A class-action lawsuit, which began as a challenge to how it classifies drivers but ultimately centered on Uber’s attempts to resolve conflicts with drivers outside of a courtroom, was one such suit. Settled today in California’s Northern District Court, it will cost the ridesharing company at least $20 million, pending a judge’s sign-off. ($5 million in legal fees are reportedly also being sought from Uber.)
Payouts after more than five years of litigation, including the decertification of the original class which included 385,000 drivers, will likely be minimal for the approximately 13,000 remaining plaintiffs. The decision to settle the suit, O’Conner v Uber, will set no precedent for similar cases about drivers’ statuses as full employees vs contractors nor change the company’s policy of burying arbitration agreements deep in the terms of service agreements that few of its drivers likely actually read.
For context, drivers, customers, and the government tangle with Uber with a regularity that could only be startling if you’ve totally avoided any story about the company in the past six years. It paid out $10 million over driver background checks, another $10 million to female software engineers in its ranks for allegedly discriminatory practices, $20 million to setting an FTC complaint that it over-hyped potential earnings to drivers, a handful in the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars for allegedly underpaying drivers and discriminating against people with vision loss, $20 million for sending text message spam no one asked for, and $148 million in a data breach settlement.
Ultimately, another $20 million—not even $1,500 per driver before legal fees, after half a decade in court—is just another slap on the wrist for a company with a track record of allegedly skirting labor laws and generally doing whatever the hell they feel like, to the detriment of its workers and the places it operates.
“We are continuing to pursue many cases against gig economy companies (and others) that are misclassifying their workers as independent contractors, in order to save on labor costs and shift the risks and expenses of operating a business to their low wage workers,” Shannon Liss Riordan, the lawyer representing these drivers, told Gizmodo in a statement. “Because of arbitration clauses, we are fighting many battles to overcome arbitration, and at the same time, we are also pursuing mass arbitrations against many of these companies.”
Updated with comment from Shannon Liss-Riordan. Reference to a $84 million settlement removed as it was eventually not approved