The Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco, issued an opinion on an appeal of a Labor Commission decision in Uber Technologies, Inc. v. Berwick, CGC 15-546378. The plaintiff, Barbara Berwick, maintained she was an employee of Uber, and was therefore owed reimbursement for expenses incurred and wages earned between July 15 and September 15, 2014. Uber claimed that it is merely a technological platform, that it provided only the ability for the passengers and the drivers to facilitate a private transaction, and that its drivers are independent contractors.
In order to determine whether Ms. Berwick was an employee of Uber or an independent contractor, the court analyzed the written agreement between Ms. Berwick and Uber and the circumstances of her employment according to a list of factors from S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Dep’t of Indus. Relations, 769 P.2d 399 (Cal. 1989). It found that Uber controlled every aspect of its operation. It did background checks on its drivers, required that drivers provide personal banking and residence information, along with social security numbers, and that drivers maintain their cars according to industry standards. Ms. Berwick’s car and her labor were her only assets. The court held
[a]side from her car, Plaintiff had no investment in the business. Defendants provided the iPhone application, which was essential to the work. But for Defendants’ intellectual property, Plaintiff would not have been able to perform the work. In light of the above, Plaintiff was Defendants’ employee.
Ms. Berwick was awarded $4,152.20 in expenses and interest. Uber has appealed the decision, and its officials issued a statement, saying that the “ruling is non-binding and applies to a single driver.”
- Mike Isaac & Natasha Singer, California Says Uber Driver Is Employee, Not a Contractor, N.Y. Times, June 17, 2015.
- Sarah McBride & Dan Levine, In California, Uber Driver is Employee, not Contractor, Reuters.com, June 17, 2015.
- Eric Newcomer & James Nash, A California Ruling Just Challenged Uber’s Entire Business Model, Bloomberg Business, June 17, 2015.
- Alyson Shontell, California Labor Commission Rules an Uber Driver is an Employee, Which Could Clobber the $50 Billion Company, Business Insider, June 17, 2015.