Judge Bars Uber From Imposing New Contract on Drivers

(Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

A federal judge barred Uber from imposing a new contract on drivers who are suing the company to be treated like employees, describing the reworded agreement as confusing.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen also ordered the on-demand transportation company to stop communicating with drivers covered by the class-action lawsuit without consulting a lawyer for the drivers or getting the court’s consent.

Thursday’s order came less than a week after Uber sent a new agreement to its drivers which, upon signing, would prohibit them from participating in or recovering relief under any current or future class-action lawsuits against the company, unless they opted out of that specific provision.

Uber currently faces a high-profile class-action lawsuit in California over worker misclassification. The size of the class could exceed 100,000 drivers. If it loses, it could be on the hook for paying for driver expenses, payroll taxes, workers’ compensation and other benefits reserved for employees.

An Uber spokesman told the Los Angeles Times earlier in December that the company would not apply the new arbitration provisions to any drivers covered by the class action, a point it reiterated in court.

But Judge Chen, who had originally given Uber the green light to issue a new driver agreement, said the wording in the new contract is “likely, frankly, to engender confusion.”

“I’m very concerned about what has happened,” he said in court.

Uber’s lawyer, Theodore Boutrous, said the new agreement was sent out to address problems the court had identified in its past driver agreements. “It fixes those things,” he said.

The lawyer representing Uber drivers, Shannon Liss-Riordan, said in a court filing that the agreement was a clear attempt at limiting the size of the class.

A jury trial is scheduled to begin June 20, 2016.