Judge expands class in lawsuit by Uber drivers claiming they are employees

SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge Wednesday increased the number of drivers eligible to join a lawsuit against ride-hailing company Uber alleging they were incorrectly classified as independent contractors when they were actually employees.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco certified an additional class of California drivers in the suit. Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the ruling would allow “many thousands more Uber drivers to be covered” by the lawsuit.

Before the expansion, Chen had estimated that at least hundreds of drivers would qualify for the suit.

Chen also said in his ruling the drivers could seek vehicle-related and phone expenses. He had previously limited the drivers’ claims to tips.

Wednesday’ ruling means the company could be on the hook for more in damages if it loses the case.

Uber said in a statement it would appeal Chen’s ruling and was confident it would win on the merits of the case.

“Drivers use Uber on their own terms; they control their use of the app along with where and when they drive,” the company said. “As employees, drivers would lose the personal flexibility they value most.”

The plaintiffs in the suit — several current and former Uber drivers — say they are Uber employees and have been shortchanged on expenses and tips.

Their lawsuit sought class certification on behalf of 160,000 drivers who have worked for the company in California since 2009. Chen is still excluding some of the drivers from the class, but his ruling on Wednesday expanded it to include those who signed recent arbitration agreements with the company and did not opt out of them.

Classifying its workers as employees could raise Uber’s operating expenses significantly and would go against its business model and identity. Uber’s selling points for attracting drivers are based on ideas of freedom and autonomy.