Amazon loses employment suit in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Amazon drivers can sue the company without first resorting to arbitration. This is because in the opinion of the court Amazon drivers are involved in ‘interstate commerce’ like seamen and railway workers.

Delivery driver Bernard Waithaka brought the case to the state’s courts thanks to his position that Amazon was paying below Massachusetts minimum wage laws and illegally classed its drivers as independent contractors and not employees.

The contract that Waithaka had signed with Amazon also demanded that the driver waived his rights to taking the company to court – a standard clause in such employment contracts. However there is a loophole in the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 that prevents workers engaged in interstate commerce from going down this route. 

Amazon countered that its delivery drivers were not physically engaged in interstate commerce.

However the three-judge ruling at the First Court of Appeals disagreed. “Waithaka and other last-mile delivery workers who haul goods on the final legs of interstate journeys are transportation workers ‘engaged in…interstate commerce,’ regardless of whether the workers themselves physically cross state lines,” the panel wrote.

While the driver has won this stage it is likely that Amazon will now appeal to the US Supreme Court for a final ruling on the matter. If Waithaka wins at that stage it could lead to a rash of appeals from drivers who are currently similarly employed (and given poor working conditions) against a large number of interstate e-commerce companies.