How A Suit Against Uber Could Redefine The Sharing Economy | KUOW News and Information

How A Suit Against Uber Could Redefine The Sharing Economy

Sep 2, 2015
Originally published on September 2, 2015 12:09 pm

Updated at 12:08 p.m. ET: Uber Responds

Uber has been fighting challenges to its business model. But a federal judge in California has allowed some drivers to proceed with a class-action lawsuit against the ride-hailing service. The case could affect other big companies in the sharing economy.

Uber challenged the traditional taxi business with an app that brought together people who need a ride with people who have cars. The drivers get paid a rate set by Uber.

But Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney for the drivers, says Uber passes on a lot of costs.

"They have to pay for their own cars. They have to pay for their gas. They have to pay for the wear and tear on their vehicles. And basically Uber is able to shift all those expenses to its drivers and not have to pay it themselves," she says.

Liss-Riordan says the drivers are arguing that they should be classified as employees — not contractors — and she claims that labor law is on their side, especially in California where the company is headquartered.

"In California, those laws are particularly strict and say that employers have to reimburse their employees for expenses that are required to do the job," she says.

One of the first steps in the case against Uber was getting the federal judge to certify the drivers as a class. The company fought that classification but lost.

Uber says the decision only applies to a limited number of drivers and the company is likely to appeal it.

The company brought in testimony of drivers who were happy being independent contractors and didn't want to be part of the class. However, the judge determined that was a small group compared with the tens of thousands of drivers that work for Uber — a company that some value at $50 billion.

Any ruling in this case could affect other companies in the sharing economy, like Airbnb, TaskRabbit and Lyft, an Uber competitor, says Stanford law professor Bill Gould.

The sharing sector is "where this question of misclassification of employees into independent contractor status is arising with increasing frequency," he says.

The case is still many months from trial. Liss-Riordan says the case is likely to go before a jury sometime next year.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Uber has lost a round in court. The ridesharing service has been fighting challenges to its business model, but a federal judge here in California has allowed some drivers to proceed with a class action suit against the company. The case could affect other big companies in what's called the sharing economy. NPR's Laura Sydell has more.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Uber holds itself out as a leader in what has been dubbed the sharing economy. It challenged the traditional taxi business with an app that brought together people who need a ride with people who have cars. The drivers get paid a rate set by Uber. But Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney for the drivers, says Uber passes on a lot of costs.

SHANNON LISS-RIORDAN: They have to pay for their own cars. They have to pay for the gas. They have to pay for the wear and tear on their vehicles. And basically, Uber is able to shift all those expenses to its drivers and not have to pay it themselves.

SYDELL: Liss-Riordan says the drivers are arguing that they should be classified as employees, not contractors. And she claims that labor law is on their side, especially in California where the company is headquartered.

LISS-RIORDAN: In California, those laws are particularly strict and say that employers have to reimburse their employees for expenses that are required to do the job.

SYDELL: One of the first steps in the case against Uber was getting the federal judge to certify the drivers as a class. Uber fought that classification, but it lost. Uber did not respond to requests from NPR for comment on the ruling, but it did bring in testimony of drivers who are happy being independent contractors and didn't want to be part of the class. However, the judge determined that was a small group compared with the tens of thousands of drivers that work for Uber, a company that some value at $50 billion. Any ruling in this case could affect other companies in the sharing economy, like Airbnb, TaskRabbit and Lyft, another ridesharing service, says Stanford law professor Bill Gould.

BILL GOULD: This question of misclassification of employees into independent contractor status is arising with increasing frequency.

SYDELL: The case is still many months from trial. Driver attorney Liss-Riordan says the case is likely to go before a jury sometime next year. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.