In a move that affects tens of thousands of Amazon workers nationwide, Judge Jon Coughenour said the individual arbitration clauses used in the drivers’ employment contracts aren’t enforceable.
The Federal Arbitration Act has an enforcement carve out for “workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” he said for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
That clause applies to the plaintiffs here because Amazon is “in the business of delivering packages and goods across the country that are not transformed or modified during the shipping process,” Coughenour said.
In addition, a strike by Amazon drivers “would be akin to local UPS or FedEx drivers striking,” which would cause a “ripple effect” because goods traveling interstate wouldn’t make it to their final destinations, he said.
“This is a national case and I’ve been waiting for this ruling since 2016,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney for the drivers, said. She filed the lawsuit in October of that year, asserting violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Washington state wage laws. It also included claims under other states’ laws, including California.
Amazon and other companies have pointed to arbitration clauses in employment contracts to avoid litigating misclassification claims in the courtroom, Liss-Riordan said.
Lead plaintiff Bernadean Rittmann wants to represent a nationwide collective for the FLSA claims, and a Washington class for the state law claims.
The Amazon suit was stayed after the Supreme Court deliberated whether class action waivers are enforceable under the National Labor Relations Act and the FAA. The Court ultimately decided those waivers were valid in May 2018.
But this January, the Court ruled that long-haul truck driver Dominic Oliveira didn’t have to arbitrate his own worker misclassification lawsuit because he was subject to a “contract of employment” and was “engaged in interstate commerce.”
Whether or not the Amazon drivers were working under “contracts of employment” as defined by the FAA was also in dispute in the present case until the high court’s decision put that to bed, Coughenour noted.
Attorneys for Amazon didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.
Lichten & Liss-Riordan P.C. and Frank Freed Subit & Thomas represent the drivers. Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP and K&L Gates LLP represent Amazon.
The case is Rittmann v. Amazon.com, Inc., W.D. Wash., No. 16-cv-01554, 4/23/19.
--Josh Eidelson (Bloomberg News) contributed to this report.