SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A judge will not compel Uber to inform drivers of their voting rights vis-à-vis Proposition 22, a California ballot initiative that if passed would exempt the company from treating drivers as employees under California law.
In a class action filed against Uber last week, a group of drivers claimed Uber’s barrage of in-app messages urging them to vote for the ballot measure violated their right to a workplace free of political coercion. They also feared that Uber would retaliate against them if they didn't signal their support.
But in a brief order Wednesday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer said the drivers’ lawsuit came too late.
“According to plaintiffs, Uber's driver app campaign began in August," Ulmer wrote. "Why plaintiffs waited months to sue and seek injunctive relief is not explained, and such delay casts doubt on their case.”
David Lowe, an attorney with Rudy Exerod Zieff & Lowe who represents the drivers, said in an interview Wednesday that Uber stopped polling its drivers on Friday, the day after the lawsuit was filed.
“That’s pretty great and I’m happy about that,” Lowe said, adding that an Uber executive also promised in a sworn declaration that Uber would not retaliate against employees for opposing or not actively supporting Proposition 22. “We accomplished two of the main goals of the lawsuit.”
But Uber fought against the drivers’ request that the court order it to tell its drivers that they have the right to vote for or against Proposition 22, or not vote at all.
In a brief submitted ahead of a Wednesday hearing in the case, Uber argued that such an order would be compelled political speech and a violation of the First Amendment.
”Plaintiffs cannot silence speech by demanding ‘emergency’ relief, especially after they lay in wait for months while Uber shared this consistent message, as they admit. Plaintiffs’ last minute attempt to radically alter a months-long status quo by stifling core political speech on an issue of tremendous public concern is an affront to the First Amendment and the political process,” Uber’s attorneys wrote.
“Uber fought us tooth and nail on this issue,” Lowe said. “It's somewhat stunning to me that Uber takes the position that ‘our First Amendment rights are violated if we have to tell our employees about the employees’ own First Amendment rights.'”
Ulmer found the drivers’ proposed temporary restraining order “particularly repugnant to free speech rights,” as it would require Uber to disseminate the plaintiffs’ campaign-related messages. He said such a request is a classic example of prior restraint.
"The employees have First Amendment rights too,” Lowe said of Ulmer’s ruling. “By only focusing on Uber’s First Amendment rights and ignoring the drivers’ First Amendment rights, the court simply elevated Uber’s rights over the employees’. It allows Uber to have that concern linger in the drivers’ heads as this election nears.”
Uber declined to comment on the ruling.
Though the election is just days away, Lowe said the case is not over. The drivers are still seeking to recover penalties for labor code violations under the Private Attorneys General Act.Follow @MariaDinzeo
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.