No dissents. No concurrences. In fact, nothing but clear consensus among justices of the United States Supreme Court in an employment case termed by one national publication as “a remarkable win for labor rights.”
SCOTUS delivered that ruling earlier this month in a matter pitting a trucking company against one of its workers deemed an independent contractor.
That individual – a driver – filed a class action lawsuit against his employer back in 2015 alleging bad faith tied to purposeful misclassification of him as a contractor rather than an employee. He claimed that the company’s action was taken to avoid paying him lawfully entitled benefits. The litigation was filed on behalf of both the trucker and many thousands of other similarly situated individuals.
The company fully expected to prevail, relying on the decades-old Federal Arbitration Act. That legislation has long allowed businesses to mandate private arbitration as the sole grievance-resolving forum. Even though the FAA cites an exception allowing employees engaged in interstate commerce to file damage claims in court, the company stressed that the plaintiff in the instant matter was never a formal employee.
The nation’s high court determined otherwise, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing an opinion that has surprised many court watchers who view him primarily as a notably conservative and business-friendly jurist.
Gorsuch relied heavily on various forms of written evidence existing back in 1925, when the FAA was enacted into law. Cumulatively, those sources of information made it clear to him and the rest of the court that legislators then did not distinguish between types of workers. Rather, “all work was treated as employment,” meaning that that architects of the FAA would have unquestionably drawn no distinction between formal employees and independent contractors.
The court held as a result of that interpretation that independent contractors laboring in interstate commerce have the same ability to litigate their employer-directed grievance claims in court as do recognized company employees.