Canada’s Supreme Court Allows Class Action Seeking Employee Status for Uber Drivers

By Steve Scherer | June 26, 2020

OTTAWA— Canada’s Supreme Court on Friday ruled in favor of a driver in a gig economy case that paves the way for a class action suit calling for Uber Technologies Inc. to recognize drivers in Canada as company employees.

UberEats driver David Heller had filed a class action suit, challenged by Uber, aiming to secure a minimum wage, vacation pay and other benefits like overtime pay. Drivers are now classified as independent contractors and do not have such benefits.

The ride-hailing company’s contract allows arbitration, but not class-action lawsuits. Heller’s attorney said the decision allowing him to sue was important, but only a small first step in a case that will probably take years to litigate.

Two days ago, California said it plans to ask a state court judge to force Uber and Lyft Inc to classify their ride-hail drivers as employees rather than contractors.

Canada’s 8-1 Supreme Court ruling dismisses an Uber appeal to an Ontario high court ruling that said the Uber’s arbitration clause violates provincial labor rules and is “invalid and unenforceable.”

The arbitration process, which must be conducted in the Netherlands where Uber has its international headquarters, costs about C$19,000 ($14,500). Heller earned between C$21,000 and C$31,000 per year.

“This was an access to justice case,” said Michael Wright, one of Heller’s lawyers. The court essentially ruled that “a stronger party was taking advantage of a weaker party in an unfair manner,” said Wright.

Uber had no immediate comment.

“The arbitration clause is improvident because the arbitration process requires US$14,500 in up-front administrative fees,” the top court said.

Now Heller can restart his class action suit, Wright said, but the matter will not be settled soon.

“This is the first round in a series of rounds,” said Wright, a labor and employment lawyer with Wright Henry LLP in Toronto, adding that it could take “a few more years.”

(Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by Moira Warburton Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

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