Uber settles out of court with driver who alleged unfair dismissal for late delivery

Uber has reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with a food delivery driver, after Federal Court judges questioned the company’s argument that drivers are not employees.

Key points:

  • An Adelaide Uber Eats driver took the company to court, alleging unfair dismissal
  • Judges questioned arguments by the company’s legal team that drivers are not employees
  • The parties reached a confidential settlement before a judgement could be handed down

Adelaide-based former Uber Eats driver Amita Gupta and her husband Santosh completed more than 2,000 deliveries between September 2017 and January 2019.

Ms Gupta alleged she was then unfairly dismissed for being late with a delivery.

The Fair Work Commission rejected her claim, ruling that she was not an “employee” by law and that it therefore did not have jurisdiction to hear her case.

Backed by the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), Ms Gupta took her legal fight to the Federal Court, which heard detailed submissions last month.

During the hearing, a panel of judges questioned arguments from lawyer Ian Neil SC, for Uber, that there was “no relationship of employment” between Uber and Ms Gupta and that the court did not need to make a “positive finding as to what that relationship was or is”.

“We actually operate in the real world here,” Justice Richard White responded.

“This is not a debating club. We’ve not just got a theoretic construct to ask ourselves about.

“I’m puzzled as to why your client doesn’t offer the court an analysis of the true factual element of the characterisation of the relationship.”

Mr Neil SC said there was a “quadrilateral relationship” between four parties: Uber Eats, the restaurant, the delivery driver and the customer.

A close-up of UberEATS delivery drivers on scooters parked in front of a restaurant.
Uber said it welcomed the resolution of the case.(Reuters: Neil Hall)

He said the drivers worked for themselves and were “delivery partners”, rather than employees, and were under no obligation to accept jobs or complete deliveries.

“Our submission is that there was no such requirement,” Mr Neil told the court.

“If the applicant chose to accept a delivery, if she made a positive choice to accept the delivery, she was then free to abandon it at any time.”

When questioned by Justice White about whether there would truly be no consequences for failing to deliver an order, Mr Neil said Uber Eats was “agnostic” about cancellations in deliveries.

The court reserved its decision, but Ms Gupta and Uber have reached a confidential settlement before a judgement could be handed down.

‘Utterly ridiculous and farcical’

In a statement, the TWU said that Ms Gupta was “sacked after she was 10 minutes late with a food delivery” and that Uber — the parent company of Uber Eats — had tried “to deny any link to its workers”.

“A settlement … was the only option left to the company in the face of a potential judgement which would have utterly altered how the company and other gig economy companies operate in Australia,” national secretary Michael Kaine said.

“The judges’ questions to Uber exposed just how utterly ridiculous and farcical its contract contortions are when it comes to getting around our labour laws.

“Uber has constructed a business model in order to refuse its workers any rights, to minimum pay, the right to challenge an unfair sacking, to protective gear or training.”

The statue of Fearless Girl stands in front of the New York Stock Exchange before an Uber sign.
Uber, the parent company of Uber Eats, went public on the US stock exchange last year.(AP: Mark Lennihan)

But an Uber Eats spokesperson said the company welcomed the settlement outcome.

“We welcome the resolution of this case and look forward to continuing our efforts to improve the quality of independent work in Australia,” the spokesperson said.

“The Fair Work Commission’s rulings in this case confirmed that delivery-partners using the Uber Eats platform are independent contractors.

“It also reflects what 87 per cent of delivery partners tell us — that they value the freedom and flexibility the Uber app provides.”

The TWU said it had asked federal authorities to impose better protections for gig economy workers.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-30/uber-settles-with-delivery-driver-who-claimed-unfair-dismissal/13021798