Lyft Tells 9th Circ. That Rideshare Drivers Must Arbitrate
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Law360 (September 4, 2020, 3:22 PM EDT) — Lyft has called on the Ninth Circuit to rule that rideshare drivers must arbitrate their employment gripes, insisting these types of gig economy workers are distinct from the Amazon delivery drivers that the appeals court has said are exempt from arbitration law.
In an amicus filed Thursday, Lyft backed rival Uber’s attempt to keep Massachusetts drivers’ misclassification dispute out of court, telling the Ninth Circuit that “absurdities would result” if it applied its Amazon ruling to rideshare drivers.
In that decision — which was handed down Aug. 19and mirrored a July 17 opinionout of the First Circuit — the Ninth Circuit found that Amazon drivers are “transportation workers” that are exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act because they are engaged in “interstate commerce.”
Even if they operate within only one state, their role is to transport goods for one leg of a larger journey across boundaries, the panel found.
However, in Thursday’s brief, Lyft said “that reasoning has no bearing on this case,” pointing instead to the U.S. Supreme Court‘s more than century-old ruling in New York ex rel. Pennsylvania Railroad Co. v. Knight, which found a cab service was primarily an independent local operation, and its drivers were not necessarily engaged in interstate commerce.
“Knight makes clear that although the local leg of a coordinated, integrated interstate journey like the one involved in an Amazon shipment is part of the ‘flow’ of interstate commerce, local transport that simply begins or ends at a place where interstate travel may take place is not part of that ‘flow,'” Lyft said.
Although rideshare drivers commonly take passengers to and from the airport, Lyft insisted that this doesn’t make those workers part of the flow.
“When a rider uses the Uber or Lyft platform to get a ride to the airport, neither the rideshare platform nor the driver has any connection to or control over the next stage of her trip, which may well not involve any interstate journey,” the company argued.
Counsel for the drivers, Shannon Liss-Riordan of Lichten & Liss-Riordan PC, told Law360 on Friday that both Uber and Lyft “devote a lot of attention and energy to having their drivers pick up passengers from airports,” making it “hard for them to deny that these drivers are in a class of workers who are engaged in the last (and beginning) leg of these passengers’ interstate journeys.”
The lawyer also said the Ninth Circuit and First Circuit’s recent stanceson this question bolster the drivers’ case.
On July 17, the First Circuit ruled in Waithaka v. Amazon.comthat the arbitration act’s exemption covers “transportation workers who transport goods or people within the flow of interstate commerce,” and that it doesn’t matter whether workers cross a state border.
The Ninth Circuit later found the same in Rittmann et al. v. Amazon.comlast month.
These two cases “make clear that Lyft and Uber drivers are exempt from the FAA because the drivers themselves do not need to cross state lines in order to be engaged in interstate commerce,” Liss-Riordan said.
Counsel for Lyft and Uber did not respond to requests for comment.
The Ninth Circuit battle is just the latest salvo in a bicoastal legal war over how transportation network companies classify their drivers, a dispute that in many cases has hinged on whether those workers must arbitrate their claims.
Rulings have gone in both directionsat the district level, and no circuit has offered a clear answer yet.
The drivers are represented by Shannon Liss-Riordan and Anne R. Kramer of Lichten & Liss-Riordan PC.
Uber is represented by Theane Evangelis, Joshua S. Lipshutz, Heather Richardson, Blaine Evanson and Brandon Stoker of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
Lyft is represented by Elaine J. Goldenberg, Rohit K. Singla, Dane P. Shikman and Jeffrey Y. Wu of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.
–Additional reporting by Jon Steingart, Chris Villani, Hannah Albarazi, Linda Chiem, Brian Dowling and Braden Campbell. Editing by Marygrace Murphy.
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