On Oct. 3, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that threatens to upend the use of independent contractor drivers nationwide.
The High Court is considering an earlier federal appeals court decision upholding a lower court judgment that a driver for New Prime Inc. could sue over misclassification as an independent contractor (AA, 3-15-18, P. 5).
Dominic Oliveira worked as an owner-operator for Prime (its dba name) until he chose to quit. He later rejoined the company as a salaried company driver. He then sued Prime for back minimum wages owed him from his previous stint as an independent driver, contending that his job duties as an owner-operator and as a company driver at Prime were “substantially identical.”
The company had argued that because Oliveira had signed a contract containing an arbitration clause, he could not bring suit under the Federal Arbitration Act and the matter had to be submitted to the purview of an arbitrator for proper resolution.
The driver’s attorneys asserted that the FAA law excepts arbitration in “contracts of employment” for workers in foreign and interstate transportation. Prime says the contract was between two business entities, not an employer and an employee.
The questions asked by the justices reveal a worrying skepticism regarding Prime’s position, but questions raised during oral argument are not always a good predictor of how the court will rule.
While it is impossible to know which way the votes eventually will go, members whose questions revealed their doubts about Prime’s position were Chief Justice John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.
A decision is expected to be handed down sometime in the first half of 2019.