In Ruiz v. Affinity Logistics, ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. June 16, 2014), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California (Judge Sammartino) that plaintiffs were independent contractors rather than employees who were entitled to unpaid wages.
Plaintiffs were furniture delivery drivers who alleged that they were employees (rather than independent contractors) of defendant employer under California law. Accordingly, plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit asserting claims for unpaid sick leave, vacation, holiday, and severance wages. Plaintiffs also sought to recover workers’ compensation insurance fees that they claimed were charged improperly. After a bench trial and subsequent briefing, the trial court found in favor of defendant, concluding that plaintiffs were independent contractors.
The appellate court reversed, finding that plaintiffs were misclassified as independent contractors. First and foremost, the court reasoned, defendant had the right to control the details of plaintiffs’ work. Indeed, defendant controlled plaintiffs’ rates, schedules and routes, controlled the equipment – trucks, tools, and mobile phones – plaintiffs used, controlled plaintiffs’ appearance through grooming standards and uniforms, closely monitored and supervised plaintiffs, and retained the right to terminate or the drivers without notice. Additionally, the court determined that other factors weighed in favor of finding that plaintiffs were employees. Among these were the facts that plaintiffs could not work for other companies and that they were paid at a regular rate.