Independent contractors working for grocery-delivery company Instacart are once again suing the company, with their employment status at the heart of the dispute for a second time. The suit, reports Consumerist, was filed Thursday in the Northern District Court of California and alleges that the company's refusal to classify its "shoppers" as employees has allowed it to deny them overtime, compensation for expenses like vehicle use and gas, and in some cases earnings at or above minimum wage.
"Instacart does not recognize itself as a grocery delivery service, instead calling itself a 'technology company that offers a proprietary communications and logistics platform,' " reads the suit. "In reality, its 'platform' assigns customer orders to workers, such as Plaintiffs, just as any dispatcher would assign work orders. Instacart uses these tech-heavy buzzwords to brand itself as something other than what it really is — a grocery delivery service subject to the same employment laws as any other employer."
This is the second such lawsuit over employee classification against Instacart, with BuzzFeed reporting that the contractors are being represented by Arns Law Firm. That is the same firm that brought suit against Instacart in 2015, although that suit was thrown out last month because of an existing arbitration agreement.
And this suit follows on similar high-profile labor cases involving Uber which has tried to make similar arguments about being a technology company and not a taxi service. Most recently Uber settled a class-action suit brought by its drivers in federal court in San Francisco for $100 million, with the plaintiffs' attorney suggesting that more suits would follow in labor-friendly states where a jury might tend to be less sympathetic to Uber, as opposed to the company's home city.
The new suit contends that Instacart's shoppers are owed far in excess of $5,000,000.
“The shoppers’ and drivers’ services are fully integrated into Instacart’s business, and without them, Instacart’s business would not exist,” the suit further explains. “Instacart voluntarily and knowingly misclassified Plaintiffs and other Instacart shoppers as independent contractors for the purpose of avoiding the significant responsibilities associated with the employer/employee relationship.”
Instacart has a troubled history with its independent contractors. In October of this year the company was forced to roll back changes to its platform which shoppers believed would result in reduced earnings. The workers threatened to strike, and the company caved.
Interestingly, Instacart did reclassify some of its workers as employees in 2015, but that status only applied to those who did 100 percent of their labor inside of grocery stores. In other words, anyone out and about doing deliveries remained as independent contractors. This fact is being used against the company in the suit, alleging that it proves Instacart "knew and/or recklessly disregarded that it was misclassifying its other Shoppers from the outset.”
While it is currently being brought by six plaintiffs, the class of the suit would allow it to include up to 14,000 independent contractors from around the country.