Supreme Court Rejects Amazon’s Driver Arbitration Dispute

Feb. 22, 2021, 2:36 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t consider whether Amazon.com Inc. “last mile” delivery drivers can escape contracts that require them to arbitrate their wage claims, a key issue percolating in courts for gig companies and other businesses that rely on contractors.

The justices on Monday declined to review a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that found the drivers can move forward with a proposed nationwide class action, despite agreements they signed, because they fall under a Federal Arbitration Act exemption for transportation workers engaged in interstate commerce.

Amazon driver Bernadean Rittmann sued the online retailer under the Fair Labor Standards Act on behalf of as many as 10,000 delivery drivers, alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors and are actually employees entitled to minimum wages and overtime. The company, however, argued that the drivers must arbitrate their claims.

The Ninth Circuit in August said the drivers qualify for the FAA exemption because they complete the final leg of deliveries that cross state borders.

Other appeals courts have tackled which workers also fall under that exemption.

The Seventh Circuit, for example, wasn’t convinced GrubHub Inc. drivers delivering food to customers in the same state could be construed as engaging in interstate commerce. The Ninth and First circuits are teed up to address the question in cases involving Lyft Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc.

Amazon separately asked the high court to consider the same arbitration issue in a wage case that the First Circuit allowed to proceed in court.

Morgan Lewis & Bockius represents Amazon. Lichten & Liss-Riordan represents Rittmann.

The case is Amazon.com vs. Rittmann, U.S., No. 20-622, cert. denied 2/22/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erin Mulvaney in Washington at emulvaney@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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