The U.S. Supreme Court handed a significant victory to American workers in a case that started as a California employment lawsuit over forced arbitration by independent contractors working in transportation. The decision in New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira was a somewhat surprising outcome given that the court in recent years has a history of favoring corporate interests over workers. (Note: Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who assumed the bench after the oral argument, did not participate in the decision, but the ruling was unanimous.) As our Los Angeles employment arbitration lawyers can explain, this will allow hundreds of thousands of independent contractors nationally to take their cases to court, rather than be mandated to settle them quietly before an arbitrator.
The problem with arbitration – whether it’s a case of product liability or premises liability or unfair wages or sexual harassment – is that it tends largely to favor employers and big corporations. The arbitrators are paid by the companies, the outcomes are not public (depriving the public of pertinent information regarding unfair or unsafe business practices) and even when cases are decided in plaintiff’s favor, they tend to be lesser than what one could expect to receive when cases go to a jury.
This case stems from a dispute between a trucking company employer and a truck driver, who was hired to complete some 10,000 miles of driving as an “apprentice” before he could expect payment. Even after that, he was expected to drive for 30,000 miles as a trainee, during which time he was paid $4 hourly. Then, once he was finally designated a full-time driver, he was still misclassified as an independent contractor, as opposed to an employee. He was required to lease the truck he drove from the defendant, buy his own equipment from their store and purchase his own diesel fuel, often from gas pumps that were owned by the defendant. In any other employment situation, the employer would be the one footing the bill for these expenses. The result, in several cases, was that the “independent contractor” truck driver would have to deduct these expenses from his income, meaning sometimes his paychecks actually wound up being negative. He was paying this company to work for them. Continue reading