Uber is to contest a default judgment handed down by the Amsterdam District Court ordering the ride-sharing giant to reinstate and pay compensation to six drivers who had allegedly been dismissed by algorithmic means.
The case was brought by the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) together with Worker Info Exchange (WIE), representing five UK drivers and one Dutch driver who they claim were unlawfully dismissed following an automated decision-making process.
According to reports, the drivers were dismissed because of “security concerns related to account sharing”, with one UK driver being told by Uber that “the decision is final”.
The judgment was entered in the Netherlands – where Uber’s European headquarters is located – in February after the ride-hailing company failed to respond to the claim.
The court also told Uber to pay €5,000 each day it failed to comply with the reinstatement order, up to a maximum of €50,000, as well as more than €100,000 in damages.
However, Uber claims it was not aware of the case until last week and that the Dutch code of civil procedure was not followed. Uber is now making an application to set aside the judgment and have its case heard on the basis that the correct procedure was not followed.
The company's defence will likely be the same as that of a case in March, specifically that Uber’s systems have meaningful human intervention for fraud deactivations and was not based solely on automated processing.
An Uber spokesperson said: “With no knowledge of the case, the court handed down a default judgment in our absence, which was automatic and not considered. Only weeks later, the very same court found comprehensively in Uber’s favour on similar issues in a separate case. We will now contest this judgment.”
Gig economy companies could be beneficial if properly regulated but they raise important new questions which societies around the world need to answer
Anton Ekker, who represents the ADCU in both recent cases against Uber, told ITV News he was “surprised” by the company’s non-attendance at court, but insisted that he took steps to notify the defendant.
“Both the writ of summons and the judgment were served by bailiffs to the headquarters of Uber in Amsterdam. I also informed Uber before I brought the case that I would take legal action if they would not reverse the deactivation of my clients,” Ekker said. “I’m a bit puzzled, to be honest.”
James Farrar, director of WIE, said: “For the Uber drivers robbed of their jobs and livelihoods this has been a dystopian nightmare come true. They were publicly accused of ‘fraudulent activity’ on the back of poorly governed use of bad technology.
“This case is a wake-up call for lawmakers about the abuse of surveillance technology now proliferating in the gig economy. In the aftermath of the recent UK Supreme Court ruling on worker rights gig economy platforms are hiding management control in algorithms. This is misclassification 2.0.”
As with the March decision, this latest case against Uber relates to article 22 of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and transparency of algorithmic decision-making.
“Uber and other major gig economy companies usually rely on two things: technology and an arm’s length relationship with their workers,” said Jacob Turner of Fountain Court Chambers.
“We are increasingly seeing legal challenges to both these elements, whether it is Uber and Deliveroo’s use of AI being debated in the Dutch and Italian courts, or Uber’s employment relationship with workers in the UK Supreme Court and multiple other jurisdictions.
“Gig economy companies could be beneficial if properly regulated but they raise important new questions which societies around the world need to answer.”