Austin Drivers File Suit Against Uber, Lyft

A pair of former drivers for Uber and Lyft filed dual class action lawsuits Thursday against the ride-hailing companies over their abrupt exit from the Austin market last month.

Pro and against signs of Austin's Prop 1 ride-hailing vote posted along voting centers on University of Texas at Austin's campus on April 28, 2016.

A pair of former drivers for Uber and Lyft filed dual class action lawsuits Thursday against the ride-hailing companies over their abrupt exit last month from the Austin market.

The lawsuits, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, claim that Uber and Lyft violated the federal Worker Adjustment, Retraining and Notification Act when they pulled out of Austin in May because they failed to properly notify their employees. Uber and Lyft have long maintained that their drivers are independent contractors, not employees.

The companies ceased operations in Austin in May after a local election upheld city regulations requiring ride-hailing drivers to undergo fingerprint-based background checks. The companies warned the city council they would leave if Proposition 1, an ordinance they supported, was not adopted. Although neither company has released data on how many drivers were operating in the city, they have claimed to have had more than 10,000.

Todd Johnston, the driver behind the suit against Uber, drove for the company since May 2015 while David Thornton, the driver on the Lyft suit, drove for Lyft since October 2015. According to the suits, Johnson and Thornton, along with other Austin ride-hailing drivers, "lost their jobs" after the companies left Austin.

“Lost in the political theater surrounding the Uber and Lyft versus Austin City Council battle was the real-world effect on the thousands of Austinites who suddenly lost their incomes when Uber and Lyft abandoned Austin,” said Michael Slack, an attorney for Johnston and Thornton. 

The federal notification act cited in the suits requires employers to notify their employees before any mass layoffs or the closure of a "facility" or "operating unit."

Representatives from Uber and Lyft did not immediately return requests for comment.

Disclosure: Uber and Lyft have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.