U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear freelancers’ challenge to California labor law

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The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

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  • Groups of freelancers claimed the law violated free speech rights
  • Court could still deal with enforcement of truckers

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge by groups representing self-employed workers to California’s controversial law, which makes it harder for companies to treat workers as independent contractors rather than as employees.

The court denied a petition from the American Society for Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association, which say the 2019 law known as AB5 violates the right to free speech of independent journalists by exempting other workers but not them.

In October, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said AB5 regulates economic activity, not speech, and that it made sense for the law to exclude certain industries in which the misclassification of workers posed fewer problems.

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The California attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jim Manley of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents freelance groups, said in an email that the court’s decision “is a loss to the thousands of freelancers who have built successful careers on the freedom and flexibility that offer independent contracts”.

According to AB5, workers are employees of a business if they are under its direct control, engaged in the normal course of its business, or if they do not operate their own independent businesses.

The stakes are crucial for businesses because employees are entitled to minimum wage, overtime and other benefits, which makes them much more expensive than independent contractors.

Trade groups and “gig economy” companies have lobbied against AB5, saying it would rob many workers of flexibility and the ability to hold multiple jobs.

In 2020, California voters approved a referendum by vote exempting app-based ride services such as Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc from the scope of AB5. Last year, a state judge struck down the measure, saying it violated state workers’ compensation law. An industry group appeal is pending.

ASJA, in its 2019 lawsuit, claimed that AB5 unreasonably barred many freelance writers from being treated as independent contractors based on the content of their speech, while exempting similar work done for marketing purposes. or artistic.

A federal judge in 2020 sided with the state, saying the categories of workers outlined in the law clearly do not depend on the substance of a worker’s speech, and the 9th Circuit agreed last year .

The Supreme Court has yet to respond to a motion by the California Trucking Association in a lawsuit challenging AB5’s claim to the trucking industry. In October, the judges refused to take up a separate case concerning the classification of truck drivers.

The case is American Society of Journalists and Authors v. Bonta, United States Supreme Court, No. 21-1172.

For ASJA: Jim Manley of the Pacific Legal Foundation

For California: Deputy Solicitor General Samuel Siegel of the California Department of Justice

(NOTE: This article has been updated to include commentary from Jim Manley of the Pacific Legal Foundation.)

Read more:

9th Circumscription dismisses freelance groups’ challenge to California’s AB5

No SCOTUS review of impact of California law on trucking industry

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Daniel Wiessner

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy development. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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