California won a minor ruling against Uber Technologies that stands to open up a bigger front in the fight by drivers for better benefits — especially for those who make airport runs and cross state lines.
A state judge suggested that such drivers may not be subject to the company’s arbitration requirement for employment disputes because they are involved in interstate commerce. He blocked Uber, for now, from proceeding with closed-door arbitration against a driver who filed a complaint with the California’s labor commissioner over unpaid wages, overtime and expenses.
Uber has relied on arbitration and settlements to defeat lawsuits by drivers seeking the benefits of employees. It has also settled arbitration claims en masse.
Experts said the ruling, while incremental, carries added weight because California Labor Commissioner Julie Su wants driver Sangam Patel’s claims argued in a proceeding before her agency. A professor at Seattle Law School said the case is important because, unlike private lawyers,
Su won’t settle with Uber.
“Commissioner Su’s efforts to challenge Uber’s arbitration agreement reflect a trend of regulators,” who are “increasingly skeptical of the companies’ arguments that they should be allowed to police themselves,” said Charlotte Garden, a professor at Seattle Law School.