May 23, 2019
A recent Law 360 story by Linda Chiem, “Uber Drivers’ Attys Seek $5M in Fees in Classification Deal,” reports that California and Massachusetts drivers who aren't bound by Uber’s arbitration agreement asked a federal judge to sign off on $5 million in attorney fees after they reached a $20 million deal to end long-running claims the ride-hailing giant wrongly classified drivers as independent contractors.
Nearly 14,000 California and Massachusetts drivers for Uber Technologies Inc. filed a request for attorney fees and costs with U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in the Northern District of California, seeking about $3.8 million in fees for lead attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan of Lichten & Liss-Riordan PC. Five other attorneys and paralegals at the Boston-based firm would receive between $16,200 and $589,000 each based on the number of hours they put into the case, according to the filing.
The total $5 million request works out to nearly 25% of the settlement fund, which is in line with the benchmark for attorney fees that courts in the Ninth Circuit have approved in class deals. Liss-Riordan said she had no additional comment beyond the court filing. “This fee request is more than justified by the cutting-edge nature of this case, the skill and creativity used in litigating the issues, the case law made here that has assisted and will assist other workers challenging their mis-classification as independent contractors, the unusually high risk taken on by filing the case, and the significant monetary and non-monetary relief obtained for settlement class members,” the drivers’ attorneys said in the filing.
In addition to the $5 million in attorney fees, the drivers requested $7,500 service awards apiece for plaintiffs Elie Gurfinkel, Matthew Manahan, Mokhtar Talha and Pedro Sanchez, and $5,000 service awards apiece for plaintiffs Aaron Dulles and Antonio Oliveira for their work in representing the class in the litigation. “These awards are reasonable and well within the range of approved incentive payments in class action litigation,” they said. “Indeed, merely associating their names with such high-profile lawsuits created a tremendous risk of being blackballed in the ‘gig economy’ industry and beyond. When searching for their names on the internet, potential employers will likely find reference to the O’Connor and Yucesoy cases.”
Judge Chen greenlit the overall $20 million settlement in March after getting the parties to provide additional information about various aspects of the agreement. Under the deal, about 11,000 drivers in California and 2,600 drivers in Massachusetts who aren't bound by arbitration would receive average payments of $2,206 each after fees and other costs are deducted, according to court filings. Uber also agreed to change some of its policies in both states to give drivers more job security, but it did not agree to classify the drivers as employees.
Specifically, Uber will no longer “deactivate,” or block from using the app, drivers who have a low rate of accepted rides. It will also clarify and give advance warning before deactivating drivers, and will allow a formal appeal process for certain cases of deactivation as well as increased access to quality courses for drivers so they can become eligible for reactivation, according to court filings.
The drivers’ attorneys said they achieved “exceptional results” in nearly six years of hard-fought litigation over the classification issue, despite taking a big hit in September when the Ninth Circuit dismantled Judge Chen’s previous class certification orders covering hundreds of thousands of Uber drivers who claimed they were classified as independent contractors and shorted on tips and work expenses.