Lawyer for Uber Drivers Offers to Cut Fee

An Uber driver sits in his car near the San Francisco International Airport. ENLARGE
An Uber driver sits in his car near the San Francisco International Airport. Photo: Associated Press

A federal judge’s approval of the controversial settlement between Uber Technologies Inc. and some 385,000 of its current and former drivers looks far from assured. To help move the settlement forward, the drivers’ lawyer has offered to cut her fee by $ 10 million.

The settlement provides for a payout of $ 84 million to drivers, with $ 16 million added on in the event that Uber goes public. Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lawyer who represents drivers who had sued to be reclassified as employees rather than independent contractors, had originally requested 25% of the settlement—or up to $ 25 million—as her firm’s fee, a standard share in class-action cases.

Under intense scrutiny from some drivers, attorneys and U.S. District Judge  Edward Chen, Ms. Liss-Riordan stated in a filing Friday that she was reducing her requested fee by $ 10 million, meaning her Boston firm would end up with $ 11 million or $ 15 million. Judge Chen hasn’t suggested that her fee is too high, but in court he has questioned whether Ms. Liss-Riordan, who has a reputation as a tireless fighter for her clients, conceded too much to Uber too quickly.

Shannon Liss-Riordan in her Boston office in September 2015. ENLARGE
Shannon Liss-Riordan in her Boston office in September 2015. Photo: Josh Andrus/The Wall Street Journal

“I cut the fee in order to emphasize that my judgment that this settlement was good for the class was not about my firm’s fee,” Ms. Liss-Riordan said in an email Wednesday. Since the settlement was announced in April, she has said that the risks of proceeding to trial—and of drivers receiving no relief at all—were so great that the deal was the best possible outcome.

Along with up to $ 100 million for drivers in California and Massachusetts, the agreement includes provisions that Uber will revise its practice of deactivating drivers from its platform without much warning or recourse, and will allow drivers to solicit tips. Concessions aside, the settlement is widely considered a victory for Uber because it allows the ride-hailing service to maintain its labor model, treating drivers as freelancers.

The deal was hard-fought by Ms. Liss-Riordan and lawyers for Uber, led by Theodore Boutrous of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

In a filing defending the settlement, Uber said the agreement was “the result of several protracted, contentious arm’s-length negotiations,” adding that objectors’ claims that “this settlement—shepherded by a neutral mediator after three years of extensive investigation, discovery and hotly contested motion practice on the verge of trial—is premature or collusive is almost laughable.”

Write to Lauren Weber at [email protected]


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