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Drivers Seek New Penalties Against Uber

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A newly expanded class of Uber drivers must persuade a federal judge to allow them to pursue new civil penalties against the company.

In a Dec. 10 ruling , U.S. District Judge Edward Chen asked lead plaintiff Douglas O'Connor to explain how pleading new claims under California's Private Attorney General's Act will affect other lawsuits against Uber.

The Private Attorney General's Act (PAGA) allows private citizens, such as Uber drivers, to pursue civil penalties against an employer that violates labor laws. Proceeds from the penalties are split, with 75 percent going to the state and 25 percent to plaintiffs.

Chen on Wednesday certified a new subclass of drivers who neglected to opt out of arbitration agreements. He found the arbitration agreements unenforceable because they contained PAGA waivers that violated state law and could not be severed from the contracts.

Chen cited four federal lawsuits and a class action in Los Angeles Superior Court - Price v. Uber - that also allege PAGA claims against the ride-hailing service.

While drivers in a separate class action alleging PAGA violations - Gilette v. Uber - did not object to O'Connor adding the new claims, Chen said he has concerns about the impact of overlapping allegations.

In an Oct. 1 motion to file an amended complaint, the O'Connor plaintiffs said that because their case has progressed to a more advanced stage, adding PAGA claims would be appropriate and justified.

"Given the more advanced stage of this case, and that this case is closer to resolving the employment status question that underlies these claims, plaintiffs submit that it does not make sense not to allow them to pursue these claims simply because they have also been asserted in another case raising primarily unrelated claims," the plaintiffs wrote in their motion to file an amended complaint.

Chen last week also asked the plaintiffs to explain how the new claims would affect the case's scheduling and improve judicial efficiency.

He ordered the plaintiffs to describe what proof they will offer to support their PAGA claims and how that proof might overlap with evidence in the other lawsuits.

Chen told both parties to be prepared to argue the issues at a case management conference he set for Thursday, Dec. 17.

He denied plaintiffs' request to add the claims of drivers who worked for Uber through third-party transportation companies.

"Permitting the addition of these individuals would inject individualized issues that this Court found defeated class certification for such individuals," Chen wrote.

The latest order came a day after Chen approved expanding the class of Uber drivers who can seek relief for unpaid tips and reimbursements for work-related expenses.

Uber immediately appealed to the Ninth Circuit, saying in a statement that if successful, the plaintiffs' lawsuit would erode the benefit that Uber drivers value most: "being their own boss."

"As employees, drivers would lose the personal flexibility they value most - they would have set shifts, earn a fixed hourly wage, and be unable to use other ridesharing apps," Uber said Wednesday.

Plaintiffs' attorney Shannon Liss-Riodan said her clients were pleased with the ruling and that it will allow more Uber drivers to pursue their labor claims.

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