The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled late last week that Uber drivers are not self-employed, but instead, “as a matter of law,” are controlled by the tech giant.
“Very few courts have been able to address this straight on like the Supreme Court did here,” Julia Simon-Mishel, the Philadelphia attorney for Community Legal Services which won the case, told the Capital-Star.
The suit, Lowman vs. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, found that the driver, an out-of-work Philadelphia behavioral health specialist named Donald Lowman, did not forfeit an unemployment check by driving for the rideshare company, as he was not a self-employed independent contractor.
“In the virtual world in which Uber operates, it monitored and supervised [the driver’s] provision” of services, Justice Kevin Dougherty, who was elected as a Democrat, wrote. He was joined by all four colleagues elected as Democrats in the 5-2 ruling.
A state unemployment board had originally found in 2016 that Lowman was an independent contractor for Uber, and was ineligible for payments. Attorneys for Uber and Gov. Tom Wolf had argued for that same interpretation in front of both appeals courts.
But their arguments were unsuccessful, as the Supreme Court affirmed an unanimous finding by the Commonwealth Court, a lower-level state appellate court dominated by Republicans, that Lowman’s jobless benefits should be restored.
The ruling, labor attorneys noted, also dispelled many arguments frequently used by gig companies to classify app workers — whether they are walking dogs, delivering groceries or providing ride-hailing services — as independent contractors.
Drivers can refuse assignments, the court pointed out. But Uber can also kick drivers off the app if they decline too many rides. Drivers also do not set their own compensation or build their own client base.