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Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Back issues
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Supreme Court snubs Uber’s fight over driver employment

The high court’s denial leaves the ride-share giant to face claims that it illegally classified drivers as independent contractors.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court passed up on an appeal from Uber on Monday, forcing the ride-share giant to face a California lawsuit that claims the company misclassified drivers as independent contractors. 

Johnathon Gregg claims Uber violated California labor laws by classifying him and other drivers as independent contractors instead of employees. The issue became a lightning rod in the Golden State, inspiring a $200 million ballot measure under review by the California Supreme Court. 

Workers classified as independent contractors do not receive benefits, such as guaranteed hourly earnings and health care subsidies, like employees do. In 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed new standards into the labor code that made it harder to treat workers as independent contractors. 

Gregg’s complaint, Uber Technologies v. Johnathon Gregg, was filed under the state’s Private Attorneys General Act, which allows employees to seek civil penalties for themselves, other employees and the state for labor code violations.

Uber tried to move Gregg’s lawsuit into arbitration, citing the agreement he signed when enrolling as a driver. 

Gregg initially prevailed, but the case was remanded following the Supreme Court’s 2022 Viking River Cruises v. Moriana ruling, in which the justices said the cruise company could force arbitration in a lawsuit filed under the Private Attorneys General Act. 

Under the new standard, the state court of appeals ruled that Gregg had to resolve his individual claims in arbitration, but his nonindividual claims must be litigated in court.

Uber urged the justices to intervene, claiming that all of Gregg’s claims should have been forced into arbitration under Viking River Cruises.

“Given the need to safeguard this court’s role under the Supremacy Clause as the final expositor of the meaning of federal law, review is appropriate whenever a lower court refuses to apply this court’s decisions,” Theane Evangelis, an attorney with Gibson Dunn, wrote in the company’s petition. 

The justices declined to review the petition. As is custom, the court did not explain its ruling. No dissents were noted.

Operators of racetracks and poker rooms also failed to secure a review of their appeal in West Flagler Associates v. Deb Haaland, a challenge to online sports betting in Florida. 

The Sunshine State made a deal with the Seminole Tribe permitting online sports betting through servers on tribal land. Florida outlawed all forms of casino gambling in 2018, but states lack authority over gaming on tribal lands.

Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, states and tribes can negotiate deals that are overseen by the federal government. 

West Flagler Association and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation claimed Florida had created a sports betting monopoly by only allowing tribes to offer online gambling. Last year, casino owners filed an emergency appeal attempting to block the agreement.

Chief Justice John Roberts initially put the agreement on pause, but then allowed it to be enforced. 

A district court held that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act did not authorize approval of a compact authorizing gambling off Indian lands but the D.C. Circuit reversed. 

The court did not explain its decision not to hear the case. Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that he would have granted the petition. 

Casinos fared no better in their challenge at the state level. The Florida Supreme Court denied relief, finding that opponents to the deal filed the wrong type of petition to challenge the compact.

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Appeals, Employment, Technology

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