A Few Facts About the O’Connor Court Case

There has been a great deal of interest in a California court case — O’Connor v. Uber Technologies — brought by three drivers who believe they should be treated as employees not independent contractors.  They want to be reimbursed for their expenses — such as fuel and insurance — as well as alleged unpaid tips and have sought to sue Uber on behalf of every driver who has ever used our app in the State of California.  That is a total of about 160,000 people.

Today, the Court declined to certify this very broad class of people, instead opting for a much smaller group — so small in fact that it even excludes one of the original plaintiffs.   While this is just one step in legal proceedings that may well play out over several years, we wanted to share some details about today’s ruling:

  • Only a few hundred drivers who are actively driving with Uber today can now be part of this case. This is because the ruling found that only drivers who either stopped driving before June 2014 or drove after June 2014 but chose to opt out of the arbitration option in their agreements, are eligible.  Most of the growth in driver numbers has happened since then — not just in California but across the United States and the rest of the world.  
  • Before June 2014, our business in California was mostly UberBLACK, primarily drivers who work for limo companies: they cannot be part of the case.  This is because the Court has ruled that those drivers never had a contract directly with Uber.  In fact, one of the three plaintiffs — Thomas Colopy — has only worked for limo companies and so can no longer be included in the case.  
  • Individuals who registered with Uber as a corporation also cannot participate in the class.  That means people like Barbara Berwick, who sought reimbursements from the California Labor Commissioner, would not qualify.

So the class moving forward will be significantly less than 160,000.  Indeed our early estimates show that the potential class is fewer than 15,000 drivers — that’s less than 10 percent of the total.  And there is a chance that this number will fall further depending on the outcome of the appeal in another case — Gillette v. Uber Technologies, Inc.

Despite these facts, we will likely still appeal because partners use Uber on their own terms, and there really is no typical driver — the key question at issue here. When asked in a survey earlier this year, most drivers said they love being their own boss.  And it’s no wonder: Uber fits around their lives, not the other way around.  Most drivers who use the Uber app already have full-time careers or part-time jobs.  Many are students or retirees.  About half of drivers in the U.S. work less than 10 hours per week.  And, most drivers vary the number of hours they drive each week significantly.  You’re more likely to find someone who drives five hours one week, 15 hours the next, and eight hours the week after, than one who drives 10 hours week after week.

Abby Horrigan is the Managing Counsel for Employment at Uber.

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