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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ruiz v. Affinity Logistics: Ninth Circuit Finds that Delivery Drivers Are Employees, Not Independent Contractors

In Ruiz v. Affinity Logistics, ___F.3d ___ (9th Cir. 6/16/14), the plaintiff sued on behalf of a putative class of furniture delivery drivers, alleging a number of wage and hour violations against the defendant, Affinity. The district court held that the drivers were independent contractors under California law, and California's wage and hour laws thus did not apply. The plaintiff appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding as follows:
“[U]nder California law, once a plaintiff comes forward with evidence that he provided services for an employer, the [plaintiff] has established a prima facie case that the relationship was one of employer/employee.” Narayan v. EGL, Inc., 616 F.3d 895, 900 (9th Cir. 2010). The burden then shifts to the employer to “prove, if it can, that the presumed employee was an independent contractor.” Id. (citing Cristler v. Express Messenger Sys., Inc., 89 Cal. Rptr. 3d 34, 43–44 (Cal. Ct. App. 2009)). Because Ruiz has shown that he provided services for Affinity, the burden shifts to Affinity to demonstrate, if it can, that Ruiz and the other drivers were independent contractors, not employees.
Slip op. at 12-13.

Under S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Dept. of Industrial Relations (1989) 48 Cal.3d 341, the primary factor in determining whether one is an employee or independent contractor is "whether the person to whom service is rendered has the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired." Slip op. at 13-14. A number of "secondary indicia" also bear on the analysis. Slip op. at 14.

Affinity had the right to control the details of the drivers’ work, and Affinity retained all necessary control over the drivers’ work. Slip op. at 15-20. Among other important facts that the Court considered, Affinity controlled the drivers’ rates, schedules, and routes, set their flat “per stop” rates of pay, decided the days drivers worked, and retained the discretion to deny drivers’ requests for days off. Slip op. at 15-16.

Most secondary factors also demonstrated that the drivers were employees. Slip op. at 20-23. Drivers did not operate distinct businesses, but were integrated into Affinity's business. Affinity closely monitored the work of the drivers; their jobs did not require substantial skill; Affinity provided their trucks, which were their main tools of work; although Affinity paid the drivers per delivery, in fact this payment plan resembled an hourly pay arrangement; and drivers often stayed with Affinity for years. On the contrary, the parties understood that they were engaged in an independent contractor relationship.

Ruiz v. Affinity Logistics is available here.

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