A new roadblock could lie ahead in Uber’s legal fight with its own drivers following a move by a New York plaintiffs attorney to coordinate a dozen lawsuits, including a high-profile class action in California challenging its employee classifications.
Most of the suits allege that Uber Technologies Inc. has misclassified drivers as independent contractors rather than employees who are entitled to unpaid wages, tips and reimbursement for gas and other expenses. Uber, based in San Francisco, offers a transportation service through a mobile application that connects drivers with customers.
A multidistrict litigation would coordinate all the cases before a single judge for pretrial purposes but, more immediately, could halt proceedings in individual cases where Uber has moved to dismiss the litigation, primarily citing arbitration agreements that drivers signed.
Hunter Shkolnik of New York’s Napoli Shkolnik, who has filed nearly half the suits, moved on Dec. 1 to coordinate all the cases into a multidistrict litigation proceeding. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has scheduled the matter for its Jan. 28 hearing in Fort Myers, Florida.
Hunter Shkolnik.Photo: Evan Sung
“We felt it was appropriate for those drivers in other states to have the same protections that they’re moving forward in California on,” Shkolnik said. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if more cases got filed in every state Uber is operating.
“We’re just getting contacted by drivers like crazy,” he said. “There are a lot of very upset drivers.”
Uber spokeswoman Jessica Santillo declined to comment but referred to the company’s Dec. 29 motion before the MDL panel that opposed coordination in part because “the tests for determining contractor status vary by state, with critical distinctions.”
Uber also parceled out the California case, stating it was “far too procedurally advanced to be consolidated or coordinated.”
The plaintiffs lawyer behind that California action, Shannon Liss-Riordan of Lichten & Liss-Riordan in Boston, filed a Dec. 16 motion opposing coordinating her case, which is scheduled to go to trial on June 20.
“After devoting countless hours and hundreds of pages of legal opinions to this case, it would be a grave mistake to transfer this case to another court at this late hour,” she wrote. Liss-Riordan did not respond to a request for comment.
A few of the cases allege that Uber rejected certain job applicants based on background checks that violate the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act. Attorney Bruce Greenberg, a member of Newark’s Lite DePalma Greenberg, who filed one those cases, opposed an MDL on Wednesday on ground that the claims are too different from the misclassification cases.
But Shkolnik disagreed that those claims couldn’t be part of an MDL. Shkolnik, who initially sought coordination before U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in the Western District of Texas, who is overseeing one case, later added the Northern District of California as a potential venue. He said he agreed with Liss-Riordan that U.S. District Judge Edward Chen, who is overseeing several cases against Uber, including hers, has made significant rulings, such as finding Uber’s arbitration agreements to be unenforceable and certifying a class of drivers. (On Monday, Liss-Riordan filed a new case in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of drivers who were potentially left out of the class.)
“It was a very cogent argument that he has done so much work on the case,” he said. “It would be offensive for me not to say he would be a very good alternative.”