We’ve all heard the headlines lately involving Uber. The company will yet again be forced to defend themselves in court after a federal judge refused to dismiss the company’s claims that its drivers were not employees. The lawsuit was brought against the company after alleged acts of sexual assault were committed against Uber customers by the company’s drivers. Under the doctrine of Respondeat Superior, an employer is responsible for the actions of their employees.
Uber claims no responsibility, on the grounds that its drivers are independent contractors, rather than employees. Companies usually aren’t liable for the actions of independent contractors. If the drivers are found to be independent contractors, Uber gets off scot free. It’s not the first time a lawsuit hinges on the employee versus independent contractor argument and it probably won’t be the last.
Plaintiffs brought claims of sexual assault, battery, false imprisonment and negligent hiring. One plaintiff claims she was asked to perform oral sex as payment for her ride and then, when she refused, was taken to a remote parking lot and raped. One of the alleged attackers has a criminal history and, despite the fact that Uber does background checks on all potential hires, the company decided to hire him anyways.
Uber filed to dismiss the claims against the company, but since the crux of the case hinges on whether or not Uber drivers are considered employees of the company, the judge found the decision couldn’t be decided as a matter of law (as Uber had hoped) but should be left up to a jury as a matter of fact.
Should Uber Be Held Responsible?
Employee vs. Independent Contractor
An independent contractor is a person who renders a service for a specified compensation and a specified result. Further, an independent contractor is under the control of the principal (in this case, Uber) as to the result of his work only and not as to the means by which the result was accomplished.
Under California law, the basic test for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee is whether the principal has the right to control the manner and means by which the work is performed. If an employer can control when and how you do a job, then you’re most likely under the employee category. The outcome is always going to be based upon the totality of the circumstances and courts place an emphasis on whether or not an employer exercised control over an employee’s performance.
The plaintiffs filing suit against Uber have a pretty strong argument that the alleged attackers were, in fact, Uber employees. Although most drivers are not paid a salary, there are many factors that could lead one to the conclusion that Uber drivers are Uber employees. Among those are: Uber sets the fare prices without driver input (drivers cannot renegotiate fees), Uber retains control of customer information, drivers require no professional skills, Uber has the right to terminate a driver at will, Uber controls the manner and means at which a driver offers rides through the Uber application and drivers must accept all requested rides when they’re logged in to the application or face potential discipline for not following procedure.
Should Courts Adopt a Hard Line Rule to Hold Companies Responsible for Sexual Assault?
Each case is going to be based on the facts of that individual case and those facts are always going to vary. Uber has previously tried to argue their company is a technology-based company, but that has already been denied by a court in a previous case against the company. Uber’s entire business is based off hiring drivers to taxi customers around. If the company can control how the drivers operate, then they should be considered employees. The question then becomes whether or not a driver committed an act during the course of his employment as an Uber driver. This again raises a question of fact.
It would be nearly impossible to come up with a hard-lined rule that holds a company responsible in every sexual assault case. Honestly, the judge got it right in this instance; Uber’s motion to dismiss was rightfully denied since the outcome of Uber’s liability relies solely on whether or not the alleged attackers were employees of Uber and that’s clearly a question based on facts for a jury to decide.
Authored by Ashley Roncevic, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law
A Palo Alto school has potentially violated federal disability discrimination laws. Despite having genetic markers predisposing him to Cystic Fibrosis (CF), Colman Chadam never developed the disease and lived a seemingly normal life.
That is, until Chadam’s school found out about his predisposition and inappropriately informed another parent of his DNA history. That parent demanded the school transfer Chadam to another district. According to the CFF, children with CF pose a higher threat of transferring certain germs to others with the disease.
With little investigation, the school complied and forced Chadam to leave. Chadam’s parents sued in federal court.
Which Laws Apply?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits federally funded programs to discriminate against people with disabilities.
Almost all schools receive federal money and, therefore, schools cannot discriminate against students with disabilities.
Who Is Protected?
A disability is any physical or mental condition that seriously limits a major life activity.
Although Chadam never had CF, he was held out to have the disease and, therefore, is covered under the federal disability laws.
“Direct Threat” Defense
Federal law provides a “direct threat” defense to disability discrimination. In short, the school would not violate the ADA if:
This is not a proper defense here. The children (that had CF) of the parents that complained had already been temporarily removed and so there was no immediate threat. The school had plenty of time to make a well-informed decision and should have evaluated whether having a genetic marker for CF posed the same risks as actually having the disease. Chadam’s doctor insists it does not.
The case is up for appeal and the Department of Education (DOE) & Department of Justice (DOJ) has weighed in. In an amicus brief to the court, the DOE and DOJ, as interested parties, are urging the court to remand the case back down to district court in order to set a precedent on whether children with specific genetic markers can be discriminated against.
Title II of the ADA states employers cannot discriminate against employees based on their genetic information, so it’s likely the courts will find genetic information cannot be a basis for discrimination in schools as well.
Authored by Ashley Roncevic, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law
On the evening of October 30, 2015, Edward Caban was driving for Uber and picked up Taco Bell executive Benjamin Golden. Golden was drunk and couldn’t remember where he lived. After spending a long period of time trying to find the correct location, Caban decided he had enough. He pulled over and asked Golden to leave his vehicle. But Caban had the feeling that something might happen, so he decided to turn on his phone camera to record what would happen next. The phone video recorded Golden beating Caban and Caban pepper spraying Golden.
In November, Golden was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault and battery. Caban then filed a civil suit against Golden for assault, battery and infliction of emotional distress. The damages in his suit totaled a little more than $25,000.
About one month later, Golden responded to the lawsuit AND filed a countersuit for $5 million. How could Golden sue Caban when Caban’s video recording clearly shows Golden’s illegal conduct? The recording was taken without Golden’s permission.
What Is California's Two-Party Consent Law?
Most states and the District of Columbia have wiretap and privacy laws preventing the recording of confidential communications unless at least one party involved in the conversation grants permission. Confidential communications refers to any conversation that a reasonable person would assume should be kept confidential. Conversations in public, for example, would not usually be considered confidential.
Through this law, Golden filed his $5 million lawsuit against Caban. If someone is in violation of California Penal Code 632, part of the California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA), they may have to pay a fine of up to $2500 and/or go to jail for a year, and they can be sued for other civil damages. Furthermore, evidence collected in violation of this law is not admissible in court, unless the evidence is used to show that this particular law was violated.
Golden lost his job because the video went public. He also claims that the video has caused him emotional distress and has prevented him from obtaining employment.
Why Is California Still a Two-Party Consent State?
Although Golden’s recent lawsuit has given the CIPA a bad rap, the law has done a lot of good for privacy and consumer protections. California remains one of the best states for privacy protections. The intent of the legislature was to prevent eavesdropping and the invasion of privacy, given the advancement of such technologies.
Consumer rights groups have also filed several class action suits against collection agencies who had recorded debtors without their consent. The lawsuits have forced most businesses to notify the people they call that all calls are monitored, whether they are for quality assurance or other reasons.
In the case of Caban and Golden, most would consider Golden’s countersuit a mistake. Had Golden remained apologetic and accepted responsibility for his actions in court, the general public would have forgotten about the incident after a month. However, now that Golden has countersued, the trial continues and Golden’s name remains in the limelight for very negative reasons. It is doubtful whether a judge or jury would remain sympathetic with Golden’s plight. Even if Caban had violated the law, I doubt that the court would penalize him with the maximum punishment. Instead, Golden will simply remain an entitled drunk with the money to sue his battered victim.
Authored by Emily Yu, LegalMatch Legal Writer
In January 2016, Jamie Foxx rescued a man from his crashed pickup truck before it caught on fire. Brett Kyle’s truck crashed in front of Foxx’s home. Foxx and an off-duty EMT cut Kyle’s seatbelt and pulled him out of the overturned truck before the vehicle became engulfed in flames.
During Foxx’s interview with KCAL, he stated that he didn’t consider his act heroic, “I just look at it as… you just had to do something.” But did Jamie Foxx have any legal responsibility toward Brett Kyle? Did Foxx have to do anything at all?
Duty to Rescue
In general, an average person does not have a duty to rescue someone just because they encounter them. Usually, a duty to rescue only arises when a special relationship exists.
Special relationships can include employer-employee relationships, owners of property and their invitees, and carriers such as bus drivers and their passengers. Jamie Foxx didn’t have a special relationship with Brett Kyle, so he had no duty to rescue. Foxx could have ignored the accident instead without any worry of prosecution for failing to do something.
The off-duty EMT who assisted Foxx also does not have an obligation to stop and assist in the state of California. Some jurisdictions have statutes that require off-duty first responders and physicians to act if they encounter someone in danger or in need of medical assistance. California, however, does not require any off-duty first responders from acting. But, if an off-duty EMT does start a rescue, they can only perform basic medical procedures. Advanced medical procedures can only be conducted by those on-duty.
However, once Foxx and the EMT started their rescue efforts, they could be held liable from stopping their rescue if stopping would have been unreasonable. Reasonable care should always be taken during a rescue. No one expects a regular person to put themselves in harm to rescue another person. However, once a rescue is started, the rescuers are legally obligated to see the rescue through. A duty to rescue can also be created if you are the one who created the dangerous situation.
What If Foxx Was Injured During the Rescue?
Jamie Foxx is a wealthy man and probably wasn’t too worried about affording medical treatments for any number of scrapes during the rescue, but what happens to the average rescuer? Who covers his injuries?
Rescuers themselves are usually not responsible for the injuries they acquire during the rescue. Instead, the person who created the emergency is usually held responsible. This concept, called the rescue doctrine, encourages rescuers to try and do what they can by ensuring that they can potentially sue the person at fault for the emergency situation.
When someone causes an emergency situation (such as a fire), they should reasonably assume that rescuers will make reasonable attempts to save people from that situation. So, any injuries that the rescuer gets from the rescue should be something that the person at fault should expect.
The rescuer doctrine only applies to those who don’t have a special relationship or legal obligation to do the rescue in the first place. First responders who are on-duty, such as firefighters and police, cannot hold anyone liable for the injuries they receive during a rescue.
What If Kyle Was Injured By Foxx During His Rescue?
Depending on the jurisdiction, a Good Samaritan law may shield a rescuer from liability if their rescue results in injury. Good Samaritan laws usually cover most injuries unless the Good Samaritan acted negligently. In other words, if a Good Samaritan uses a reasonable amount of care that any ordinary person would use in that situation, they would be shielded from liability.
In California, where Foxx rescued Kyle, a Good Samaritan is someone who renders care at the scene of an emergency and does not take any form of compensation for their actions. So, Jamie Foxx would be considered a Good Samaritan under California law and would be protected from lawsuit if he accidentally injured Brett Kyle during his rescue.
Jamie Foxx didn’t have any duty to help Brett Kyle, but he went above and beyond expectations to rescue a man in potential danger. Although Foxx remains humble about the rescue, his act is heroic nonetheless.
Authored by Emily Yu, LegalMatch Legal Writer
That is what one woman, Tamara Fields, is claiming. She is suing Twitter for enabling an Islamic State (“ISIS”) attack which killed her husband, Lloyd “Carl” Fields, on November 9th in Jordan. Her suit contends that Twitter violated the Anti-Terrorism Act. The Act permits U.S. citizens to triple damages for injuries suffered from acts of international terrorism. The lawsuit alleges that Twitter enables ISIS and other terrorist groups to grow, recruit, and disseminate propaganda. The case is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and is one of the first of its kind.
While it is evident that terrorist groups are gaining far too much traction on social media, how successful will a lawsuit like this be?
Did Twitter Help Kill Fields?
Tamara Fields’ lawsuit contends that Twitter’s activity was a substantial factor in her husband’s death. It further alleges his death could have been foreseeable. Fields’ attorney states, “It was foreseeable that giving ISIS unfettered access to Twitter accounts would enable them to recruit, fundraise, and spread their propaganda and that this would lead to the deaths of innocent civilians.”
The question becomes whether Twitter knowingly or in willful ignorance allowed ISIS groups to use their platform to spread propaganda and did nothing to stop it.
Different social media platforms have different standards to stop terrorist-related propaganda. For example, Facebook shuts down any page, group or profile related to terrorist organizations or any content celebrating terrorism. Of the social media giants, it is the best at removing ISIS-related videos, newsletters and photos.
Social media outlets like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter rely primarily on users to identify offensive content, which is reviewed and may be deleted. These companies are not legally required to report the offensive material to government agencies, but they often do if they come across content which raises serious red flags.
In the past several years, the use of Twitter has grown, especially among ISIS supporters. It began to increase suspensions to Twitter accounts after videos and images of journalist James Foley’s beheading was disseminated on social media. Although Twitter has successfully identified many terrorist groups and suspended their accounts, users whose accounts are suspended often come back with new accounts.
Even if Twitter hasn’t been altogether successful, they have teams around the world who actively identify violating conduct, investigate reports of rule violations, partner with organizations countering extremist content online, and work with law enforcement.
As with any social media platform, there is a dichotomy in allowing free speech versus restricting dangerous terrorist propaganda. Twitter, more than any other social media outlet, is known for liberally allowing freedom of expression.
Government regulation of speech in the United States is generally considered unconstitutional pursuant to the First Amendment, regardless of if the speech is offensive or hateful. Free speech activists are concerned that if government officials police certain types of speech, it will lead to censorship.
Communications Decency Act of 1996
According to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (“C.D.A. Section 230”), intermediaries like Twitter and Facebook cannot be held personally liable for content posted by their subscribers. C.D.A. Section 230 protects internet service providers and interactive computer service providers, which includes practically any online service that publishes third-party content. There are exceptions for certain criminal and intellectual property-claims. However, C.D.A. Section 230 gives broad protection that permits controversial or political speech to flourish online.
It is important to note that the legal protections provided by C.D.A. Section 230 are limited to U.S. Law. Canada, Japan, European nations, and many other countries do not have similar statutes which provide such expansive protections. While other countries have high levels of internet access, most prominent online services originate in the United States.
Will Fields’ Lawsuit be Successful?
Given the First Amendment Free Speech protections, coupled with C.D.A. Section 230, it is unlikely that Tamara Fields lawsuit will go very far before being thrown out.
Authored by Erin Chan-Adams, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law