In this case, a truck owner-operator who contracted with an over the road hauling company contended that he was misclassified as an independent contractor, and thus entitled to overtime pay and minimum wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Wisconsin law (minimum wage). In addition, the plaintiff alleged that the contracts he signed with the defendant were unconscionable and thus defendant was unjustly enriched because it required him to bear overhead costs that should have been borne by defendant. Finally, plaintiff alleged that defendant violated the Truth in Leasing regulations, based on representations it made to him.
After the district court dismissed the case with leave to amend, the plaintiff amended his complaint, and the defendant moved to dismiss the amended complaint. The lower court again dismissed the complaint, but the second time with prejudice, and held that plaintiff’s claims were essentially barred by the very agreements he was challenging the legality of. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that employee status is determined by application of the “economic reality” test and thus, reaffirmed the longstanding black letter law that FLSA rights may not abridged by contract.
While Schneider argued that this agreement established that the driver had a high degree of control over his work and that Schneider had therefore properly classified him as an independent contractor, the plaintiff argued that under the controlling test–the economic reality test–he was Schneider’s employee.
Under the FLSA, workers are employees when “as a matter of economic reality, [they] are dependent upon the business to which they render service.” As the Seventh Circuit noted, the economic reality test includes analyzing: (1) the nature and degree of the alleged employer’s control as to the manner in which the work is to be performed; (2) the alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending upon his managerial skill; (3) the alleged employee’s investment in equipment or materials required for his task, or his employment of workers; (4) whether the service rendered requires a special skill; (5) the degree of permanency and duration of the working relationship; and (6) the extent to which the service rendered is an integral part of the alleged employer’s business.
In reversing dismissal of the driver’s minimum wage claims, the Seventh Circuit concluded that the district court had “erred by giving decisive effect to the terms of [its] contracts,” when “what matters is the economic reality of the working relationship, not necessarily the terms of a written contract.”
For instance, while the operating agreement gave the driver the ability to choose the route and schedule to follow when delivering a shipment, the driver alleged that “the economics of his work constrained his route selection, so his nominal freedom to choose a route did not determine whether he controlled his labor.”
Similarly, while the operating agreement gave the driver the ability to choose which Schneider shipments to haul (and in theory, to select more shipments with higher profit margins), the driver alleged that he could not actually exercise this theoretical right to turn down shipments. The driver further alleged that, despite the terms of his contract, Schneider did not allow him to hire workers or haul freight for other carriers.
In light of these allegations, the Seventh Circuit concluded that the driver’s amended complaint had pled sufficient facts to allow a plausible inference that Schneider was his employer and he was its employee, and not an independent contractor. Thus, the Seventh Circuit reversed.
Click Brant v. Schneider National, Inc. to read the entire Opinion.
*** Andrew Frisch and Morgan & Morgan are actively handling and investigating similar cases regarding independent contractor misclassification. If you believe you have been misclassified as an independent contractor by a current or former employer, contact us for a free consultation at (888) OVERTIME [888-683-7846] today. ***