Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - A recent ruling from a U.S. Appeals Court in the lengthy multidistrict litigation case FedEx drivers brought against their employers found that the question of whether drivers are employees or independent contractors remains a complicated matter, reversing a previous summary judgment made against Florida plaintiffs and sending the litigation back to federal court. Drivers brought lawsuits against FedEx throughout the mid-2000s that claimed many tax and compensation issues were working against them because they were categorized as independent contractors, when they felt they were in fact employees of the company. The recent ruling in late May represents the continual struggle those questions have caused between plaintiffs and defendants as well as between federal district and appeals courts.
There are a slew of work conditions and standards that are affected when determining the difference between a FedEx driver‘s status as a independent contractor or employee. Plaintiffs claim that federal wage and hour laws, anti-discrimination laws, benefits laws and many more are not honored fairly if they are designated as independent contractors. The argument over these issues between FedEx and the package delivery company‘s drivers has been in the courts for more than a decade.
The original summary judgment given for the multidistrict litigation in 2010 was for the most part a large win for the defendants, determining that the FedEx drivers were to be classified as independent contractors in 23 states and employees in only 3. This ruling was appealed and has since been receiving mixed results throughout the appeals process. In August of 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that drivers should be considered as employees in Oregon and California, a ruling contrary to what had originally been decided by the summary judgment.
The most recent ruling by the appeals court in late May was in relation to the reassessment of how drivers were classified pursuant to Florida state laws. Drivers in Florida originally filed claims in 2005 under the state‘s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, alleging that they should not have to pay fees for gear necessary to perform their jobs, among other complaints such as fraud and breach of contract.
The main tensions coming up over and over in the Florida cases are created between the amount of guidelines given to the Florida drivers, which they believe constitute an employer/employee relationship, and the flexibility drivers are afforded in relation to their work schedule and workload that FedEx argues supports the independent contractor designation. The court acknowledged valid arguments from both sides in the ruling, comparing procedures such as employees not having money withheld for taxes or health insurance, while also considering the fact that FedEx controls various particulars of how drivers do their job, down to the size of truck that should be used and how packaged should be loaded into their vehicles.
The appeals judge in this case did grant a reversal of the summary judgment made against drivers, and the case will now head to the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Florida where further arguments from the two sides will be considered and ruled upon. The decision doesn‘t decide the outcome of the proceedings, but the reversal of the summary judgment for Florida drivers is a clear victory for them and drivers appealing the original summary judgment around the country.