PLA Wins Commonwealth Court Victory in Uber Case

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  January 25, 2018

CONTACT:
Julia Simon-Mishel
Staff Attorney, Philadelphia Legal Assistance

E-mail: jsimonmishel@philalegal.org
Phone: (215) 981-3889                                                     

By 7-0 Vote, Commonwealth Court Reinstates Unemployment Benefits for Uber Driver Who Had Been Denied Based on “Self-Employment”

Yesterday, the Commonwealth Court has unanimously held that where an unemployed worker had qualified for unemployment compensation benefits, he would not be later disqualified from receiving benefits because he picked up work with Uber while looking for a new job.  The decision is important for finding that casual work for Uber does not amount to setting up a new business.

Philadelphia Legal Assistance represents many low-wage workers who engage in work through the “gig” economy by driving for Uber or Lyft.  As a result of ride-hailing work, many of these clients have lost access to unemployment compensation benefits because the Department of Labor and Industry has generally disqualified them based on “self-employment.” A determination about self-employment in the unemployment compensation context attempts to identify individuals who are in business for themselves and therefore not truly unemployed.  The individuals impacted by the Court’s decision have already qualified for unemployment benefits based on the separation from their prior job.

The Commonwealth Court addressed these concerns and issued an opinion in Lowman v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, No. 686 C.D. 2016, finding that a driver for UberX, is not “self-employed” under the Unemployment Compensation Law.  The en banc court unanimously decided that the worker involved in this case, Mr. Lowman, was not an independent business person and therefore could not be denied unemployment compensation benefits.

Uber intervened in this appeal and contested Mr. Lowman’s access to unemployment compensation benefits.  Despite Uber’s attempts to use rhetoric to legally categorize drivers by calling them “partners,” the Court identified that Mr. Lowman did not take any steps to hold himself out as an entity separate from Uber.  The concurrence further recognized that under Pennsylvania law, drivers like Mr. Lowman are not permitted to pick up and transport passengers without a taxicab or limousine license.  These drivers are instead dependent upon the ride-hailing companies for business. 

“Our clients, like Mr. Lowman, are not ‘partners’ of Uber, they see themselves as employees whose work is controlled by Uber and dependent on the existence of the Uber platform,” says Julia Simon-Mishel, the staff attorney at Philadelphia Legal Assistance who litigated the case. “Mr. Lowman responsibly reported his wages to the Department of Labor and Industry thinking he was reporting part-time employment with Uber. As a result, he was disqualified from benefits he had earned from his previous job.  The decision of the Commonwealth Court is an important first step in clarifying the relationship between drivers and Uber and ensuring that low-wage workers in the ‘gig’ economy are treated fairly by both the Department and their employers.”

Read the opinion by the Commonwealth Court.

About Philadelphia Legal Assistance

PLA is the federally funded civil legal aid provider for Philadelphia’s indigent community, providing high volume, high quality legal services including community education, advice, referral, pro se assistance, representation at administrative hearings and at all levels of state and federal courts in areas of basic human needs: family safety, health, income maintenance and home preservation.  PLA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and provides direct legal services to approximately 7,500 people a year.  PLA’s Public Benefits Unit represents hundreds of low-wage workers in unemployment compensation cases each year.

For more information, contact (215) 981-3800 or visit www.philalegal.org.