(Adds comment from defendants' lawyer)
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, April 12 More than 200 "black car"
drivers who ferry bankers, lawyers and other executives around
New York City are independent contractors and cannot pursue
class action claims that they were deprived of wages, a federal
appeals court ruled on Wednesday.
The drivers had sued to recoup unpaid overtime from
Corporate Transportation Group and several franchisors operating
roughly 700 cars in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
By a 3-0 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Manhattan said the drivers "were in business for themselves,"
reflecting their ability to set their own schedules, decide
which rides to take, and work for multiple car services.
The drivers had argued that the defendants, which in some
respects they likened to the ride-hailing service Uber, exerted
"a great deal of control," including by charging them for the
right to drive, negotiating rates, maintaining a dress code, and
setting rules on vehicle maintenance.
But in Wednesday's decision, Circuit Judge Debra Ann
Livingston said CTG "wielded virtually no influence over other
essential components of the business, including when, where, in
what capacity, and with what frequency plaintiffs would drive."
While other companies in similar cases might be deemed
employers under federal labor law, in the CTG case "these
plaintiffs were not employees of these defendants," she wrote.
A lawyer for the drivers did not immediately respond to
requests for comment.
Evan Spelfogel, a lawyer for CTG and the franchisors, said
the decision provided a "roadmap" for companies to preserve
independent contractor relationships with drivers, even where
some factors weigh in favor of employee status.
Wednesday's decision upheld a September 2014 ruling by U.S.
District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan.
The U.S. Department of Labor sided with the drivers in their
appeal, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Black Car
Assistance Corp trade group sided with CTG.
The case is Saleem et al v. Corporate Transportation Group
Ltd et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-88.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie
Adler and Andrew Hay)