McGillis v. Dep't of Econ. Opportunity, 3D15–2758

Citation210 So.3d 220
Decision Date01 February 2017
Docket NumberNo. 3D15–2758,3D15–2758
Parties Darrin E. MCGILLIS, Appellant, v. DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY; and Rasier LLC, d/b/a UBER, Appellees.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)

Darrin E. McGillis, in proper person.

Shutts & Bowen LLP, and Daniel E. Nordby (Tallahassee), and Andrew E. Schwartz (Fort Lauderdale), for appellee Department of Economic Opportunity; Littler Mendelson, P.C., and Courtney B. Wilson, for appellee Rasier, LLC.



Darrin E. McGillis, a former Uber driver, appeals the decision of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity concluding that an Uber driver is not an employee for the purpose of reemployment assistance. Because the parties' contract explicitly provides that an Uber driver is not an employee and the nature of the parties' relationship was consistent with this classification, we agree. We therefore affirm the Department's order denying McGillis' claim for reemployment assistance.


Uber is a technology platform that connects drivers with paying customers seeking transportation services. McGillis served as an Uber driver until Uber revoked his access to the technology based on alleged violations of Uber's user privacy policy. McGillis then filed a claim for reemployment assistance against Rasier LLC, d/b/a Uber.1 The threshold issue raised by McGillis' claim was whether he provided service to Uber as an employee entitled to reemployment assistance under section 443.1216, Florida Statutes (2015), or whether he served Uber as an independent contractor.

The Department of Revenue initially found that McGillis served as an Uber employee. Uber contested this determination, and an evidentiary hearing was held before the Department of Economic Opportunity. Following the hearing, a special deputy recommended a reversal of the Department's order. The special deputy found McGillis had served Uber as an independent contractor and was therefore not entitled to reemployment assistance. McGillis filed exceptions to the recommended order. In a detailed final order, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity adopted the special deputy's recommended order and overruled McGillis' exceptions. McGillis filed this timely appeal.

At the hearing before the Department, witnesses explained in detail how Uber's transportation network software works. The software consists of two applications that are generally accessible on smartphones: a "user application," used by individuals seeking transportation services, and a "driver application," used by individuals willing to provide transportation services.2 Drivers receive a percentage of the fare charged to the passengers,3 and Uber processes payments to drivers weekly by direct deposit.

Uber supplies additional insurance coverage for commercial operation of a vehicle, but it does not provide other benefits such as medical insurance, vacation pay, or retirement pay. At the end of each year, Uber sends each driver a "Form 1099"—an Internal Revenue Service form used to report payments to independent contractors—setting out the amounts paid to the driver for the year.

A prospective Uber driver must agree to the terms and conditions of Uber's "Software Sublicense and Online Agreement." This contract specifies that the driver is an independent contractor and not an employee. It further explains that the driver, as an independent contractor, is not entitled to unemployment benefits:

This Agreement is between two co-equal, independent business enterprises that are separately owned and operated. The Parties intend this Agreement to create the relationship of principal and independent contractor and not that of employer and employee. The Parties are not employees, agents, joint venturers or partners of each other for any purpose. As an independent contractor, you recognize that you are not entitled to unemployment benefits following termination of the Parties' relationship.

The contract further specifies that each trip request accepted is considered a "separate contractual engagement," that drivers are "entitled to accept, reject, and select" requests as they see fit, and that drivers have no obligation to accept any request.4 Drivers are free to set their own schedules and to determine what locations they will serve.

A prospective driver is subject to a background check and must provide Uber with information about the driver's vehicle, registration, license, and insurance. Drivers are responsible for supplying, maintaining, and fueling their own vehicles. Uber does not require drivers to display Uber signage in their vehicles, nor does Uber control the drivers' attire. Drivers are free to switch between using Uber's driver application and the application of a competitor, such as Lyft.

Uber does not directly evaluate or supervise its drivers. Instead, passengers rate their drivers on a scale ranging from one to five stars. If a driver's overall rating falls below the level set by the region's general manager and no improvement is shown, Uber may deactivate the driver's account.5

During his time as an Uber driver, McGillis experimented with when and where to use the driver application. 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 requests from Lyft's driver application. In fact, McGillis switched between using Uber and Lyft at his discretion.

Based on the testimony presented at the hearing, the Department's executive director concluded that Uber drivers were not employees. It noted that the drivers exercise a level of free agency and control over their work different from that of the traditional master-and-servant model indicative of an employer-employee relationship:

The agreement between drivers and Uber specifies that the relationship is one of independent contractor, and the actual course of dealing confirms that characterization. Drivers have significant control over the details of their work. Drivers use their own vehicles and choose when, if ever, to provide services through Uber's software. Drivers decide where to work. Drivers decide which customers to serve. Drivers have control over many details of the customer experience. Drivers may provide services through, or work for, competing platforms or other companies when not using the Uber application. On these facts, it appears that Uber operates not as employer, but as a middleman or broker for transportation services.

Rasier, LLC v. Fla. Dept. Econ. Opportunity , 0026 2834 68–02 McGillis (Fla. Dept. Econ. Opp. Dec. 3, 2015) at 2.


At the outset, we approve the executive director's observation regarding the changes rippling through our society as a result of the technology at issue:

The internet and the smartphones that can now access it are transformative tools, and creative entrepreneurs are finding new uses for them every day. People are being connected in ways undreamed of just a decade ago. This is as true for business relationships (through software like Uber) as it is for social relationships (through software like Facebook). Many more people have access to, and voice in, markets that may once have been closed or restricted. Just as many more people can now publish their own thoughts to a vast audience, many more people can now offer their services or hawk their wares to a vast consumer base.

Id. at 19. In this case, we must decide whether a multi-faceted product of new technology should be fixed into either the old square hole or the old round hole of existing legal categories, when neither is a perfect fit.

The narrow issue on appeal is whether McGillis performed transportation services using Uber's software application as an "employee" within the meaning of Chapter 443. This determination is based on "the usual common-law rules applicable in determining the employer-employee relationship." § 443.1216(1)(a)(2). "The statute does not refer to other rules or factors for determining the employment relationship." Brayshaw v. Agency for Work Force Innovation , 58 So.3d 301, 302 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011). Accordingly, the Department was "limited to applying only Florida common law in determining the nature of the employment relationship." Id. 6

To determine whether an individual is an employee or independent contractor, Florida law requires courts to initially look to the parties' agreement. Keith v. News & Sun Sentinel Co. , 667 So.2d 167, 171 (Fla. 1995). If a provision disclaims an employer-employee relationship in favor of independent contractor status, courts honor that provision "unless other provisions of the agreement, or the parties' actual practice, demonstrate that it is not a valid indicator of status." Id. If the parties' actual practice contradicts their written agreement, the actual practice controls. Id.

Indeed, independent contractor or employee status "depends not on the statements of the parties but upon all the circumstances of their dealings with each other." Cantor v. Cochran , 184 So.2d 173, 174 (Fla. 1966). So to determine whether the parties practice an independent contractor or employee-servant relationship, Florida courts consider several factors outlined in the Restatement (Second) of Agency § 220. Id. at 174–75. The Restatement lists the following ten factors:

(a) the extent of control which, by the agreement, the master may exercise over the details of the work;
(b) whether or not the one employed is engaged in a distinct occupation or business;
(c) the kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the employer or by a specialist without supervision;
(d) the skill required in the particular occupation;

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    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
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    ..."was triggered by a dispute over the conduct of Uber's business (providing car service"), with McGillis v. Dep't of Econ. Opportunity , 210 So. 3d 220, 225 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2017) (holding Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of reemployment assistance).6 Plaintiff does not al......
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    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
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    ...“was triggered by a dispute over the conduct of Uber's business (providing car service”), with McGillis v. Dep't of Econ. Opportunity, 210 So.3d 220, 225 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2017) (holding Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of reemployment assistance). [6] Plaintiff does not a......
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1 books & journal articles
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    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 130 No. 2, November 2020
    • November 1, 2020
    ...(holding that Uber Black drivers are not employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)); McGillis v. Dep't of Econ. Opportunity, 210 So. 3d 220, 223-24, 226 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2017) (holding that Uber drivers are independent contractors under the common-law test); see also Greater H......

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