Uber argued against itself in class action case, judge says
A judge in California delivered the latest legal blow to Uber on Tuesday, using the ride sharing service’s own argument against the company.
The case involved four current and former Uber drivers who claimed that they should be considered Uber employees—not independent contractors. U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco on Tuesday issued an order granting the plaintiffs class certification, which opens the company up to a much larger pool of potential claimants in California. As many as 160,000 people have driven for Uber in the state, though Uber estimates that the specifics of the ruling will allow for a potential class of fewer than 15,000. The ruling raises the stakes of the case since it will let a jury to consider all the claims of the class at once, rather than requiring aggrieved drivers to bring their cases individually.
It’s that last point—that Uber drivers are unique from one another—that Chen identified as being in conflict with another Uber rationale: that every single driver should be classified as an independent contractor.
Chen notes the “inherent tension” between Uber’s arguments in his ruling:
[O]n one hand, Uber argues that it has properly classified every single driver as an independent contractor; on the other, Uber argues that individual issues with respect to each driver’s “unique” relationship with Uber so predominate that this Court (unlike, apparently, Uber itself) cannot make a classwide determination of its drivers’ proper job classification.
Uber, Chen says, can’t have it both ways. “At least one of these arguments cannot be entirely accurate,” he writes. Chen ultimately concludes that Uber drivers’ employment situations are “sufficiently similar” to merit a class action status on the matter of employment classification and the issue of unpaid tips. (Chen denied class certification with respect to the plaintiffs’ expense reimbursement claims.)
Uber declined to comment when Fortune asked about its two apparently contradictory arguments in the case. But it may want to tweak them for the appeal so they’re less—as Chen put it—”problematic.”