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Judge adds new army to Uber driver suit

Opens door for more plaintiffs in class action case

A US judge has issued a ruling that will expand the pool of drivers who can take part in a class action lawsuit against dial-a-ride giant Uber.

Judge Edward Chen of the Northern California US District Court said that an agreement Uber had signed with drivers from 2014 to 2015 containing an opt-out clause in the class action suit was invalid and that certain drivers who had worked with Uber in the state could join in the complaint.

The ruling [PDF] will allow more of the 160,000 drivers represented in the case to actually sign on to the complaint and, potentially, receive a share of the payout should the court decide in their favor or Uber opt to settle.

Specifically, drivers who had previously been told they would have to opt out of arbitration in order to file complaint. In other words, drivers had to say at the time of signing the contract whether they would want to take part in a class action case against Uber.

Drivers have been hoping to sue Uber in a class action complaint alleging the car service failed to cover their expenses and withheld tip money from fares it collected on rides. The case centers in large part on the classification of those who drive for the Uber service. The plaintiffs in the case (three named Uber drivers) have argued that they were employees of Uber and thus subject to labor laws, while Uber has countered that its drivers are paid contractors and bound by their agreements with the company.

The class action case could have a profound effect on the entire ride-sharing industry, as a decision in favor of the drivers will set a precedent for those in other states and other services to file similar claims seeking reimbursement.

According to Judge Chen, a clause Uber included in its more-recent driver agreements requiring an opt-out of arbitration for money owed was invalid. Citing a recent decision by the California Supreme Court, Chen said that the earlier ruling excluding those who had not opted out should be overturned, as the clause was no longer enforceable.

"The Court will certify an additional subclass of UberBLACK, UberX, and UberSUV drivers who signed up to drive directly with Uber or an Uber subsidiary under their individual name and electronically accepted any contract with Uber or one of Uber's subsidiaries which contained the notice and opt-out provisions previously ordered by this Court (i.e., the June 2014, November 2014, or April 2015 agreements) even if they did not timely opt out of that contract's arbitration agreement," the judge declared.

The court did, however, decline motions to also include those who had driven for a subsidiary company or those who had driven under assumed names, on the grounds those groups lacked proof of having worked the required weekly hours to stake a claim. ®

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