Amid the COVID-19 pandemic almost every aspect of life has changed, but unfortunately for Uber and Lyft one thing that’s remaining the same is their continued legal trouble in California. According to Rideshare Drivers United, an advocacy group, two-thousand California ride-share drivers have filed wage claims against the companies, seeking over $630 million for lost wages and related damages.
Predictably, the lawsuits rely on California’s Assembly Bill 5. Both sides in the case are making the argument that the current crisis is all the more reason for their side to prevail.
On the one hand, Uber and Lyft counter that making drivers employees will only result in lost jobs, adding to the burden already on the economy with all the COVID-19 related layoffs. The plaintiffs argue the pandemic is even more reason for drivers to be deemed employees, so they have much-needed access to benefits during a health crisis.
The plaintiffs are also managing to adapt their strategy to the crisis. The groups on the drivers’ side are looking to pressure the state to strictly enforce AB5 against Uber and Lyft and have planned caravan protests outside the California Labor Commission’s offices and the offices of the Employment Development Department.
Along with, of course, being another big test of California’s AB5, the actions also present an early look into how arguments and the views of legal claims may be altered through the lens of the pandemic, as well as a glimpse into how things might adapt, as seen with the plan for caravans outside government offices.
Unfortunately, it may not work out well for either side. Recently, in Rogers v. Lyft, Case No. 20-cv-01938-VC, a U.S. District Court in Northern California considered an emergency motion brought by Lyft drivers used the pandemic as the basis for asking the Court to force Lyft to treat them as employees so they could obtain paid sick leave. While the Court chastised Lyft for treating the drivers as independent contractors despite the application of AB 5, it also took issue with the plaintiffs and their attorneys, pointing out that the benefits available to the left drivers as independent contractors under new laws like the Families First Coronavirus Response Act were far more generous than the four to eight hours of paid sick time the drivers would be entitled to as employees. The court ultimately denied the emergency motion. It seems that courts will be skeptical of parties seeking tactical advantages in litigation because of COVID-19.
With so much in flux, an experienced legal team can help navigate a difficult time for businesses, particularly with the ever-changing landscape for companies during the current crisis.