Miami-Dade County

Uber wins big in court after Miami driver denied unemployment benefits

The Uber app at work in downtown Miami.
The Uber app at work in downtown Miami.

Florida was right to deny unemployment payments to a former Uber driver from Miami since the ride-hailing company only employs contractors and not workers entitled to benefits, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The decision by Miami-Dade’s Third District Court of Appeal brings the latest setback for Darren McGillis, who said he borrowed $30,000 in 2015 to purchase an Outlander SUV to start driving for Uber in Miami. That year, Uber deactivated McGillis’s driver account, freezing him out of the booking system, after he demanded that the company help him confront a passenger who he accused of damaging his vehicle. Uber refused.

When Florida denied him unemployment benefits, McGillis sued Florida and Uber. It was part of a string of legal challenges across the country aimed at the heart of Uber’s business model, which uses a cellphone-based booking system to recruit thousands of part-time drivers in cities that often end up dwarfing existing fleets of taxis.

In siding with Florida, the Third DCA judges noted McGillis signed a contract identifying him as a contract worker, was not obligated to accept any of Uber’s requests to pick up passengers, and was not under the supervision of any Uber manager in terms of conduct, dress or other typical employee functions.

The 14-page decision amounted to an endorsement of the legal underpinning of the so-called “gig economy,” where workers trade full-time employment for a series of for-hire jobs that lack the traditional package of vacation pay, sick time and other employee benefits.

“Due in large part to the transformative nature of the internet and smartphones, Uber drivers like McGillis decide whether, when, where with whom and how to provide rides using Uber’s computer programs,” the decision read. “This level of free agency is incompatible with the control to which a traditional employee is subject.”

In a statement, the state labor agency that was the main defendant in McGillis vs. Department of Economic Opportunity hailed the decision.

“This decision is a win for businesses that are offering new and innovative services to meet the changing demands of our high-tech economy,” Director Cissy Proctor said.

In a statement, McGillis urged local governments to take a harder stand regulating Uber and its competitors. “Uber is a bully and has successfully bullied local politicians across the USA to cave into their demands,” he said.