U.S. District Judge Grants Uber Drivers In California Class Action Status, Uber Will “Likely Appeal”

A U.S. District Judge just granted the former Uber drivers who filed a lawsuit against Uber class action status. That means the lawsuit, which argues that Uber should reimburse drivers for gas and other expenses, and effectively reclassify Uber drivers from contractors to employees, now represents thousands of former Uber drivers in California and hundreds of active Uber drivers.

“While we are not surprised by this Court’s ruling, we are pleased that it has decided to certify only a tiny fraction of the class that the plaintiffs were seeking,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch in an email. “Indeed one of the three named plaintiffs will not qualify. That said, we’ll most likely appeal the decision as partners use Uber on their own terms, and there really is no typical driver–the key question at issue.”

Uber wanted the judge to drop the class-action part of the suit, saying that the three people who filed it did not represent all of the people in California who drive for Uber. In an attempt to prove that the case should not represent all of Uber’s drivers in California, Uber presented the judge with testimonials from about 400 drivers who said that they preferred to remain as independent contractors. But U.S. District Judge Edward Chen today rejected Uber’s argument, saying that the number of testimonials was “statistically insignificant,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.

“We are likely to pursue an appeal of this decision because it is based on several key legal errors,” Ted Boutrous, a Gibson Dunn lawyer representing Uber in court, said in a statement. “The mountain of evidence we submitted to the court—including the declarations of over 400 drivers from across California—demonstrates that two plaintiffs do not and cannot represent the interests of the thousands of other drivers who value the complete flexibility and autonomy they enjoy as independent contractors.”

For an employer, the main difference between contractors and W-2 employees is that employers have to “withhold income taxes, withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, and pay unemployment tax on wages paid to an employee,” according to the Internal Revenue Service. For employees, W-2 status gives them access to training programs and, more importantly, benefits like overtime, or reimbursement for gas and other car expenses.

Now, it’s ultimately up for a jury to decide whether Uber drivers are employees. Even though the ruling today doesn’t mean that Uber drivers will be reclassified as employees, “this decision is a major victory for Uber drivers,” the plaintiffs’ lead attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan said in a statement. “It will allow thousands of Uber drivers to participate in this case to challenge their misclassification as independent contractors, as well as to attempt to recover the tips that Uber advertised to customers are included in the fare, but are not in fact distributed to the drivers.”

What happens in this case could set a precedent for similar cases in other states nationwide.