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Workers' Rights Org. Backs Lyft Driver's Sick Leave Appeal

Law360 - Max Kutner

The D.C. Circuit should get to consider whether Lyft drivers are engaged in interstate commerce and therefore exempt from a federal arbitration law, a worker-side employment law group said in a friend-of-the-court filing in a D.C. federal court case regarding paid sick leave.

In an amicus brief Monday, the National Employment Law Project said the lower court should grant a driver's May 13 request to certify an interlocutory appeal of a ruling compelling her to arbitrate claims that the company denied drivers paid leave amid COVID-19 by misclassifying them as independent contractors.

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The potential harm meets the threshold for "exceptional circumstances" warranting interlocutory review, the group argued.

Independent contractors often lack benefits and protections required for employees, such as minimum wage, overtime pay and paid sick time.

Lyft does not give its drivers health protections, which is especially problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic, NELP argued.

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If Lyft classified its D.C. drivers as employees, the drivers would have been eligible for up to 56 hours of sick leave under a local law, and up to 80 hours of additional paid leave during the pandemic, NELP argued.

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NELP's brief comes less than two weeks after former Lyft driver Cassandra Osvatics filed for interlocutory appeal. Osvatics had argued appellate review was necessary because there had been "widely disparate" district court rulings regarding whether ride-share drivers fit the Federal Arbitration Act exemption for certain transportation workers.

Under Section 1 of the FAA, "contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce" are exempt from arbitration requirements. But the statute does not define "engaged in foreign or interstate commerce" or "any other class of workers," leading to litigation.

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Pooja Shethji of Outten & Golden LLP, who represents Osvatics, said in a statement to Law360 on Tuesday, "NELP's brief confirms that both workers and the public lose when a company uses forced arbitration to shield its employment practices from judicial review."

Counsel and a spokesperson for Lyft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The drivers are represented by Christopher McNerney, Mikael A. Rojas and Pooja Shethji of Outten & Golden LLP.

Lyft is represented by Rohit K. Singla, Elaine J. Goldenberg, Justin P. Raphael and Rachel G. Miller-Ziegler of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.

NELP is represented in-house by Hugh Baran, and by Roseann R. Romano and Mark Hanna of Murphy Anderson PLLC.

The case is Osvatics v. Lyft Inc., case number 1:20-cv-01426, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.