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DoorDash driver must arbitrate class action

A Whitman DoorDash driver must arbitrate a class action complaint alleging that the online food delivery dispatcher violated state law by failing to pay him minimum wage and overtime, a federal judge in Massachusetts has ruled.

In December 2017, Darnell Austin filed a putative class action in Massachusetts Superior Court on behalf of himself and others who worked as DoorDash drivers in the state.

The plaintiff alleged the company improperly classified him as an independent contractor to avoid meeting its obligations under the Massachusetts Wage Act. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged his wages fell below the state’s minimum wage of $11 an hour for certain periods when taking into account the fact that the company did not reimburse him for gas and car maintenance.

DoorDash removed the case to federal court and moved to compel arbitration pursuant to a binding arbitration clause in the online contractor agreement Austin executed when he first signed on as a delivery driver in October 2016.

The plaintiff argued that DoorDash drivers fall within the “transportation worker” exception to the Federal Arbitration Act recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2001 decision in Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams. On that point, the plaintiff argued that the prepared meals delivered by DoorDash drivers remain in the flow of interstate commerce for purposes of the exception — even for drivers like himself who never cross state lines.

U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani disagreed and granted the company’s motion to compel in her Sept. 30 order. The judge found distinguishable cases from other circuits cited by the plaintiff for the proposition that a worker, or even a class of workers, does not need to drive across state lines in order to be engaged in interstate commerce.

The judge explained that the cases on which the plaintiff relied shared a “unifying theme” in that they involved manufacturers in interstate commerce that ultimately intended to see their goods through to the final destination at issue.

“Plaintiff makes no allegation of any tie between the out-of-state manufacturers of packaged goods and Defendant, such as allegations that a soft drink manufacturer intended to make its products available directly to consumers in their homes via Defendant’s service and drivers,” Talwani wrote. “Instead, the final destinations from the vantage point of the interstate food distributors are the restaurant where Plaintiff picks ups orders, and not the customers to whom he makes deliveries.”

The plaintiff is represented by Boston attorney Shannon E. Liss-Riordan. Michael Mankes of Boston represents defendant DoorDash.

The nine-page decision is Austin v. DoorDash, Inc. The full text of the ruling can be found here.

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