Last Thursday, Uber settled two closely-watched class actions contesting Uber’s classification of approximately 385,000 drivers in California and Massachusetts as independent contractors as opposed to employees. While the plaintiffs viewed the settlement as a victory, so likely did Uber, as it allows Uber to continue to pursue an on-demand independent contractor service business model. The court, however, still needs to approve the settlement and whether it will do so is not clear.
As part of the proposed settlement, Uber agreed to pay $84 million to the drivers. If Uber holds an initial public offering and its valuation goes above $93.75 billion within one year, Uber will pay an additional $16 million to the drivers bringing the total settlement to $100 million. After reducing the pot to account for attorneys’ fees and other costs, the individual payments, based on the number of miles driven by each driver, range from nominal amounts up to $8,000, although the majority of class members may just walk away with less than $100. Uber further agreed to revise its termination practices so that drivers must generally be given warnings and explanations before Uber can deactivate them from its software application. Drivers will also be able to appeal terminations and will enjoy a more driver-friendly tipping policy.
Many consider $84 million, or even $100 million, a well-spent business expense for Uber, who potentially had to spend hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to reclassify its drivers and comply with the requirements of minimum wage, overtime, workers compensation, anti-discrimination, benefits, sick leave, and other federal, state and local laws that apply to employees.
But Uber is not out of the woods yet. First, as mentioned earlier, the court must approve the settlement and there is no guarantee that it will. Just a few weeks earlier, a California judge rejected a proposed settlement of similar litigation between Uber’s competitor, Lyft, and its drivers in part because it “short-changed” those drivers. Under that settlement, Lyft drivers would have received an average of $56. Second, Uber is settling lawsuits with its former and existing drivers in California and Massachusetts, but lawsuits in other states remain outstanding and new ones could be on the way. Stay tuned for further developments.