According to the complaint filed in New York federal court on Monday, Lyft drivers could be losing "thousands of dollars per year" due to the ride-sharing app's practice of restricting drivers' access to the platform if they fail to respond to trip requests or hadn't performed 180 rides within 30 days.
"Lyft's forced logouts of its affiliated drivers amount to nothing less than short-term layoffs of workers who have come to depend on the availability of full-time work in order to meet their work expenses, let alone the cost of living in New York City," the complaint states.
Named plaintiff M.D. Islam claims he began experiencing restrictions from the app after traveling to Bangladesh to visit his mother who'd become seriously ill in December. Islam claims that when he returned nearly a month later, Lyft had forcibly logged him off the platform. According to the complaint, he was able to work only roughly half the online hours he had been accustomed to, significantly lowering the take-home pay he uses to support his wife and two children.
Lyft's forced log-off policy has impacted drivers long before the coronavirus hit the United States, but COVID-19 is undoubtedly impacting whether drivers can reach their 180-ride quota within 30 days, according to counsel for the proposed class, Zubin Soleimany of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
"There's almost no ridership — people aren't working," Soleimany stated, "[The policy] doesn't give workers the opportunity to do enough trips to support themselves."
According to the complaint, Lyft violated "the spirit, if not the letter" of the City Council's Local Law 150, a regulation put in place for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission to establish drivers' minimum pay. According to Local Law 150's pay formula, Lyft is required to pay driver rates of at least $17.22 per hour plus expenses for time in between trips — an implementation Lyft unsuccessfully fought to block in February 2019.
The complaint alleges that Lyft is ignoring its contractual obligations to drivers by continuing to restrict access to the app for those who were deemed to be underperforming, stating that the practice "violates the spirit, if not the letter, of TLC regulations intended to confer basic labor protections upon some of the city's most vulnerable low-wage workers."
Lyft updated its forced log-off policy in October in response to the new TLC rules, according to the complaint. Initially drivers on the app would not be forcibly logged off Lyft if they'd maintained a 90% trip acceptance rate and completed 100 rides within a 30-day period, but the complaint argues that the app increased the threshold to 180 rides with little notice to drivers in a blog post titled "What the New TLC Rules Mean for You."
According to a spokeswoman for the ride-hailing app, "the changes made to the Lyft app were a direct result of the TLC's misguided regulation" and "to support drivers through the changes, we have provided drivers with times they can drive without any app restrictions, in-app maps on where drivers can go to provide rides, and additional transparency to help drivers earn."
With nearly 600,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., the federal and state governments have encouraged citizens to social distance and remain at home as often as possible. Since March, Lyft has been slapped with multiple suits concerning their response to the pandemic.
In March, gig workers urged a Massachusetts federal judge to force the ride-hailing platform to grant its drivers employee status and provide sick pay during COVID-19. Weeks later, a judge denied Lyft's bid to arbitrate the claims just after he called out the ride-hailing company's disregard for the law and questioned whether Lyft drivers were using the crisis "as a hook to get a court ruling." California drivers sought the same from the company, but their bid was rejected and sent into arbitration earlier this month.
According to Monday's complaint, Islam and the proposed class of New York drivers are exempt from having to arbitrate their claims with the company. Though Islam did not formally opt out of Lyft's arbitration provision, the driver argues that transportation workers engaged in interstate commerce, the completion of rides across state lines, are exempt from Section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act.
The proposed class is represented by Zubin Soleimany of New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Jeanne Mirer and Ria Julien of Mirer Mazzocchi & Julien PLLC.
Counsel information for Lyft Inc. was not available.
The case is Islam v. Lyft, Inc., case number 1:20-cv-03004, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
--Editing by Nicole Bleier.
This story has been updated to clarify the duration of drivers' complaints.
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