Law360 (July 31, 2020, 8:54 PM EDT) -- California drivers challenging Lyft's refusal to classify them as employees and provide paid sick leave have gotten support at the Ninth Circuit from worker advocacy groups, who told the court that the company was endangering its workers and the public during the pandemic.
In their amicus brief Thursday, the National Employment Law Project, Partnership for Working Families and Legal Aid at Work urged the Ninth Circuit to direct the district court to enter a preliminary injunction reclassifying Lyft Inc. drivers and granting them paid sick leave.
The groups contended that U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria's April ruling denying John Rogers, Amir Ebadat and Hany Farag's request for the injunction let Lyft "use its arbitration requirement to escape its legal obligation to provide its employees with paid sick days."
"That decision ignored the high risk of coronavirus infection that Lyft drivers face every day," the brief said. "Since then, Lyft has failed to protect its workers from the spread of the virus, further endangering workers' and the public's health."
According to the brief, Lyft's forced arbitration requirements weren't governed by the Federal Arbitration Act and consequently were invalid under California state law.
Additionally, the company's misclassification of the drivers hurt other employers who were abiding by the law, the groups argued.
"We're very pleased this amicus brief was filed by NELP and several other organizations, supporting the drivers' claims that getting paid sick leave during a pandemic is an urgent issue that should have been granted on our motion for preliminary injunction," Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney for the drivers, told Law360 in a statement Friday.
Judge Chhabria had punted the drivers' dispute to arbitration and shut down their emergency injunction bid, chiding them for using the COVID-19 crisis as bait to get a favorable court decision on the long-standing and heavily litigated issue of independent contractor drivers in the ride-hailing industry and saying "there's no justification for the tone-deafness of the position advanced by the plaintiffs and their lawyer as this crisis unfolds."
The judge acknowledged that Lyft drivers provide ride-hailing services squarely within the usual course of the company's business and that "companies like Lyft are thumbing their noses at the California Legislature, not to mention the public officials who have primary responsibility for enforcing A.B. 5."
But he ultimately concluded that because Lyft's arbitration agreements were enforceable, it was ultimately up to an arbitrator, not the courts, to decide whether such drivers should be reclassified, according to the April 7 order.
However, the drivers contended at the Ninth Circuit that the judge improperly held that Lyft drivers didn't fit the definition of a transportation worker engaged in interstate commerce who is exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act, among other things.
Counsel for Lyft didn't respond Friday to a request for comment.
The drivers are represented by Shannon Liss-Riordan of Lichten & Liss-Riordan PC.
Lyft is represented by Rachael E. Meny, R. James Slaughter and Eugene M. Paige of Keker Van Nest & Peters LLP and Rohit K. Singla, Dane P. Shikman, Jeffrey Y. Wu and Benjamin G. Barokh of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.
The appellate cases are Rogers et al. v. Lyft Inc. et al., case numbers 20-15689 and 20-15700, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
--Additional reporting by Linda Chiem. Editing by Haylee Pearl.
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