Amazon Drivers Do Not Have to Arbitrate, 9th Circuit Rules

In a divided ruling, the Ninth Circuit confirmed that Amazon delivery drivers can move ahead with their class action suit.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed on Wednesday that Amazon delivery drivers fall within the Federal Arbitration Act’s exemption for interstate transportation workers.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Ninth Circuit upheld an April 2019 decision by US District Judge John C Coughenour rejecting a joint bid by Amazon.com and Amazon Logistics to force a group of 10,000 drivers, led by Bernadean Rittman, to arbitrate their class action alleging that the company misclassified them as independent contractors.

The majority agreed with Coughenour’s assessment that “last mile” delivery drivers did not have to physically cross state lines during their work in order to participate in interstate commerce as outlined by the Federal Arbitration Act.

Section 1 of the Act exempts “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” from arbitration, but does not offer a definition for the phrase “engaged with interstate commerce” or what “other class of workers” might fall under the exemption.

The Ninth Circuit majority rejected Amazon’s argument that drivers delivering goods in-state were not “engaged with interstate commerce” even if those goods originated from another state.

“The fact that the phrases ’employed in commerce’ or ‘engaged in commerce’ have not been interpreted to require businesses or employees to cross state lines persuades us that Amazon’s unduly restrictive construction of the phrase is unwarranted,” the majority stated in its opinion.

However, Circuit Judge Daniel A Bress dissented, arguing that the majority decision created problematic implications regarding “workability and fairness” by vaguely defining what it means to engage in interstate commerce. “The majority’s contrary reading is less supported in the statutory text and invites difficult line-drawing problems,” he said.

“Seeking to resist the logical implication of its holding — under which the FAA’s narrow transportation worker exemption could broadly include anyone who delivers goods between any two locations — the majority constructs a new FAA doctrine under which the exemption turns on the supposed ‘continuity’ of the interstate commerce and where items ‘come to rest.’”

Shannon Liss-Riordan of Lichten & LIss-Riordan PC, representing the delivery drivers, said in a statement on Wednesday that she was “very pleased with this significant victory which exempts transportation workers, such as Amazon delivery drivers, from the Federal Arbitration Act.”

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