Oakland, California—Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that a class of 2,300 individuals working for FedEx Ground was misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees. As a result, FedEx may owe its workforce of drivers hundreds of millions of dollars for illegally shifting to them the costs of such things as the FedEx branded trucks, FedEx branded uniforms, and FedEx scanners, as well as missed meal and rest period pay, overtime compensation, and penalties. The case, known as Alexander v. FedEx Ground, covers employees in California from 2000 – 2007.
The decision by a three-judge panel reversed previous rulings by the District Court for the Northern District of Indiana in three class action cases involving mostly former independent contractors for FedEx Ground. The court held that those independent contractors operating in California from 2000-2007 and Oregon from 1999-2009 were employees according to the panel’s interpretation of state laws. The model that the court reviewed is no longer in use. Since 2011, FedEx Ground has only contracted with incorporated businesses, which treat their drivers as their employees. FedEx Ground will seek review of these decisions, including review by the entire Ninth Circuit.
Judge Fletcher’s majority opinion was very clear on the question of whether these workers are employees or independent contractors, stating “We hold that plaintiffs are employees as a matter of law under California’s right-to-control test.”
The court’s finding in Alexander that drivers in California are covered by California’s workplace protection statutes not only impacts one of FedEx Ground’s largest workforces but could influence the outcome in over two dozen cases nationwide in which FedEx Ground drivers are challenging the legality of their independent contractor classification. Millions of packages are delivered every day across the state under the control, direction, and supervision of FedEx Ground. In addition, many trucking companies have been operating under a similar model in which they classify their drivers as independent contractors.
“We fundamentally disagree with these rulings, which run counter to more than 100 state and federal findings – including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – upholding our contractual relationships with thousands of independent businesses,” said FedEx Ground Senior Vice President and General Counsel Cary Blancett. “The operating agreement on which these rulings are based has been significantly strengthened in recent years, and we look forward to continuing to work with service providers across our network to provide customers the industry’s most reliable service.”
“FedEx Ground built its business on the backs of individuals it labelled as independent contractors, promising them the entrepreneurial American Dream,” said Leonard Carder Attorney Beth A. Ross who is a national leader on cases covering the exploitation of workers by mischaracterizing them as independent contractors. “However, as Judge Trott said in his concurring opinion, not all that glitters is gold.”
FedEx now requires its so-called contractors in California to hire a secondary workforce of FedEx drivers, who do the same work as the plaintiffs under the same contract. According to Ross, the Alexander decision calls into question FedEx’s strategy of making plaintiffs the middle men between the secondary workforce of drivers and FedEx.