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Former Uber driver not entitled to unemployment benefits, appellate court rules

Darrin McGillis worked as independent contractor for ride-sharing company

MIAMI – A former Uber driver wasn't wronged when he was denied unemployment benefits by the state, a Florida appellate court ruled Wednesday.

The Third District Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which concluded that an Uber driver is not an employee for the purpose of reemployment assistance.

An evidentiary hearing determined that McGillis worked as an independent contractor for the ride-sharing company and was therefore not entitled to reemployment assistance. McGillis appealed the decision.

File: Darrin McGillis vs Uber and Florida Department of Economic Opportunity

"During his time as an Uber driver, McGillis experimented with when and where to use the driver application," the opinion said. "He spent his own time and money investigating the most profitable times and locations. Uber did not reimburse him for any costs related to this market research, such as the cost of gas. And although McGillis left his previous job to use Uber's driver application, Uber did not require him to do so. Nor did Uber prohibit him from receiving ride request from (competitor) Lyft's driver application. In fact, McGillis switched between using Uber and Lyft at his discretion."

The 14-page ruling concluded that an independent contractor is not an employee.

"Uber and McGillis contractually agreed that McGillis' work did not make him an employee," the ruling said. "A review of the parties' working relationship confirms this understanding. Due in large part to the transformative nature of the internet and smartphones, Uber drivers like McGillis decide whether, when, where, with whom and how to provide rides using Uber's computer programs. This level of free agency is incompatible with the control to which a traditional employee is subject."

Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, called the decision "a win for businesses that are offering new and innovative services to meet the changing demands of our high-tech economy."

About the Author:

Peter Burke returned for a second stint of duty at Local 10 News in February 2014.