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Did Liss-Riordan Betray Uber Drivers?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

When Shannon Liss-Riordan started suing major tech companies last Spring, she was hailed as the woman who could take down "the entire on-demand economy." Uber and Lyft were her two primary targets, but companies like Amazon were in her sights as well.

The Boston labor lawyer's main complaint was employee classification; that on-demand services like Uber and Lyft classified their drivers as independent contractors, making those bear significant employment burdens, while simultaneously managing them as employees.

But those early prophesies about the impact of Liss-Riordan's litigation haven't panned out. Instead, Liss-Riordan's lawsuits have ended in a series of settlements that could earn her millions without changing the employment status of drivers. Her settlement with Lyft was recently tossed out of court for undervaluing drivers' claims, and her proposed $100 million Uber settlement is being decried by some as a betrayal -- including by one of the first drivers to sue Uber.

"Utterly Betrayed"

Uber announced it was settling Liss-Riordan's class action in late April. Under the terms of that settlement, Uber will pay out $84 million initially, with another $16 million coming later should the company have a successful IPO. That's no small payout to the 385,000 drivers who could be affected by the settlement -- but it doesn't change their employment classification, the main basis for the suit. Under the terms of the settlement, Uber drivers will remain independent contractors.

Many have criticized the terms of that settlement. One of the first plaintiffs against Uber, Douglas O'Connor, said in a court filing that the agreement was not in the interest of the drivers and that he felt "utterly betrayed" by Liss-Riordan.

Lawyers Complain as Well

O'Connor isn't Liss-Riordan's only critic. The Los Angeles Times has declared that the settlement could make things worse for Uber drivers, while other attorneys have attacked Liss-Riordan's motivations. "She has single-handedly stuck a knife in the back of every Uber driver in the country," Hunter Shkolnik, a New York lawyer who is also suing Uber, told Bloomberg in an interview. "The entire class was thrown under the bus and backed over."

In response to such complaints, Liss-Riordan has said that O'Connor "has apparently been recruited by the lawyers who are launching these attacks on me - lawyers who do not practice in this field, and who I believe may have a history of jumping on big cases and making some noise so they can try to get a piece of it."

We could soon find out if Liss-Riordan's critics are successful in undermining the settlement. District Judge Edward Chen has set a June 2nd hearing on the deal.

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