Uber drivers have won a tentative victory in their long-running legal battle to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors.
A federal court in North Carolina gave conditional certification on Wednesday to a class-action lawsuit by several Uber drivers that was brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The plaintiffs can now seek out the approximately 18,000 drivers who opted out of arbitration in their contracts with the company and are thus eligible to join the case. Uber has more than 600,000 drivers in the United States.
“The ruling today is going to allow drivers across the country to band together to challenge Uber’s misclassification of them,” said Paul B. Maslo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “They are employees and should be getting minimum wage and overtime as required by federal law.”
Jerry H. Walters Jr., a lawyer for Uber, declined to comment. The company said in a statement that it was “disappointed with this decision, particularly because a Federal District Court recently denied conditional certification in another case”; that ruling was handed down last month in Florida.
Almost from the beginning of Uber’s meteoric rise as an alternative to traditional taxis, the role of its drivers has been contentious. Many of them felt that they were captive to Uber’s rules and demands and should thus be accorded the protections and benefits of traditional employees. Uber has always challenged that notion.
A 2013 class-action suit filed in California suffered a setback in Septemberwhen an appeals court said most Uber drivers must go to arbitration rather than court to settle claims. A significant settlement now appears unlikely in the California case.