June 26, 2020
VANCOUVER, BC / OTTAWA, ON – Last fall, the Community Legal Assistance Society (“CLAS”) went to Ottawa to argue that powerful companies like Uber should not be able to take away people’s rights using fine print buried deep inside long, complicated user agreements. Today, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed.
In an eight to one decision the Supreme Court allowed a proposed $400 million class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Uber drivers in Ontario to go ahead. The drivers allege that Uber is violating their employment rights. Uber tried to have the case thrown out because the Uber app user agreement says that claims against Uber can only be brought through a private arbitration process. The arbitration process takes place in the Netherlands, and costs $14,500 US dollars just to commence, making it an inaccessible and largely meaningless option for Canadian workers seeking to enforce their legal rights.
The Ontario Court of Appeal allowed the class action to go ahead, finding that Uber’s private arbitration clause is unconscionable and an illegal attempt to avoid Ontario’s employment standards laws. Today, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed that the private arbitration clause is unconscionable and unenforceable. This landmark ruling opens the door for Uber employees and other gig workers to be recognized as employees.
CLAS was granted intervenor status (the right to make submissions in the appeal as a non-party) to provide the Supreme Court with perspective on how unfair conditions buried deep in standard form contracts can create serious injustice for everyday people.
“We can’t allow powerful companies like Uber to play ‘gotcha’ with people’s rights by hiding unfair conditions deep inside the agreements that everyday people must sign just to access basic services” says Kevin Love, a lawyer with CLAS. “The idea that people are freely and voluntarily accepting these unjust conditions is simply a myth.”
““The Court sent a clear message that powerful companies like Uber can’t take advantage of people using grossly unfair terms buried deep in a standard form contract” says Greg Allen, a partner with Allen / McMillan Litigation Counsel who represented CLAS in the Supreme Court. “People shouldn’t need a lawyer every time they download an app or get a new cell phone plan.”
Kevin Love, CLAS staff lawyer