By Levi Sumagaysay
Lyft Inc. driver Erika Garcia-Galicia voted against a 2020 California ballot initiative that would exempt Lyft and other “gig work” companies from having to treat their drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.
“I have a lot of friends who do Lyft and use other platforms,” Garcia-Galicia told MarketWatch in an interview. “They deserve the right to have benefits.”
Two years after Proposition 22 passed, Garcia-Galicia was forced to confront the high stakes of the debate. She says she became a victim of sexual assault while driving for Lyft /zigman2/quotes/208999293/composite LYFT +3.63% , and that she believes the company’s inadequate response to what happened to her stems directly from the gig-work business model.
Garcia-Galicia, who lives in the Los Angeles area and last week sued Lyft over a February 2022 incident in which she said a male passenger groped and tried to kiss her, called Prop. 22 “a way of suppressing everybody’s voice. It’s a way for Lyft not to be held accountable.”
Her lawsuit may hinge on the fate of Prop. 22, which was ruled unconstitutional by a California court after voters passed it. The lawsuit contends that Lyft’s classification of drivers as contractors was a factor in the company’s failure to protect Garcia-Galicia, who drove for the ride-hailing platform for about four years, working on it full-time for at least half that time. It is one of 17 lawsuits, filed at the end of August, that involve allegations of physical and sexual assault of drivers and passengers.
For more: Lyft sued over alleged assaults of 17 drivers and passengers
“Because Lyft intentionally misclassified all of its driver-employees as independent contractors rather than employees, Plaintiff was not afforded basic legal protections that are designed to protect her from sexual assaults, compensate her for the assault that occurred, and facilitate her recovery,” Garcia-Galicia’s lawsuit reads.
Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, said a finding on misclassification in this lawsuit will likely depend on the outcome of the challenge to Prop. 22. Uber Technologies Inc. /zigman2/quotes/211348248/composite UBER +0.78% and a coalition of gig companies that include Lyft and DoorDash Inc. /zigman2/quotes/222973991/composite DASH +0.06% have appealed the court decision that struck it down.
Lawyer Tracey Cowan said things “may have been different” for her client, Garcia-Galicia, and other ride-hailing assault survivors — both passengers and drivers — if the company’s business model wasn’t based on evading responsibility for employing drivers. Among the complaints in Garcia-Galicia’s lawsuit are that she did not receive training “on how to deal with such a horrible situation, and had little to no information about the strangers — including the Rider — Lyft paid her to transport in her vehicle.”
“I was a huge opponent of Prop. 22 from the beginning because I know of these cases,” Cowan said. Last October, Lyft published a community safety report that showed it had recorded more than 4,100 sexual-assault claims from 2017 to 2019.
“Importantly, the case references the denial of workers’ compensation — which is the issue at stake in the current lawsuit against Proposition 22,” Jacobs said. The judge who struck down Prop. 22 did so because he said it limits the power of future state legislatures to define workers as subject to workers’ comp laws.
A Lyft spokeswoman pointed to a provision in Prop. 22 that requires gig companies to provide occupational accident coverage for medical expenses and lost income for injuries suffered when workers are “online,” or on the job.
But Garcia-Galicia said she has received no compensation and is dissatisfied with the company’s response. After reporting to the company that a male passenger described his genitalia to her, groped her breast and tried to kiss her, she said a Lyft representative apologized and told her that passenger would be suspended. She then received an email from the company, which she called “broad” and which made her feel the company did not care as she suffered from panic attacks.
Then the passenger contacted her on her phone, further upsetting her.
“Why did they give him my information?” she said she asked a Lyft representative. When she was told the company did not provide her contact information, she was not reassured. “Does he know where I live?” she said she thought, adding that the company did not make her feel safe, that she pretty quickly decided to stop driving afterward, and that she is now in therapy.
Lyft spokeswoman Gabriela Condarco-Quesada told MarketWatch that the company has a 24-hour critical response line that drivers and passengers can call to report incidents, and that “every member of our safety team is a credentialed victim advocate.”