Uber's legal battle to keep its drivers classified as independent contractors rather than employees got off to an inauspicious start this week when a San Francisco federal judge challenged some key evidence Uber submitted as part of its opposition to the case.
During a Thursday hearing, Judge Edward Chen heard arguments about whether to allow a lawsuit challenging Uber's designation of its drivers as independent contractors to proceed as a statewide class action. And he had some particularly tough questions for Uber, which has been opposing the case with declarations from 400 drivers who say they're happy with their independent contractor status and don't want to be employees. Specifically, Chen questioned how Uber can insist that the varying work arrangements of the 160,000 drivers on its platform make it impossible to classify them as a single class, while simultaneously claiming that 400 drivers that provided it with pro-independent-contractor declarations definitively represent all Uber drivers.
“You have 400 declarants — that sounds impressive,” Chen said. “Except when you measure that against 160,000 class members. That measures out to 0.25 percent — not even that. […] You cannot allow a group of 'happy campers' to control the class. You're always going to get some people who don't agree with it.”
Uber, for its part, maintains that 400 declarants should be more than enough to knock the wind out of a complaint brought by a handful of drivers. “Plaintiffs' attempt to certify a sweeping class action in this case must be rejected,” Ted Boutrous, the company's attorney, said in a statement. “… These three plaintiffs do not and cannot represent the interests of the thousands of other drivers who value the complete flexibility and autonomy they enjoy as independent contractors.”