Two years after a former Gloucester Taxi driver filed a lawsuit, a judge has ruled that the driver was an employee, rather than an "independent contractor."
Gloucester resident Inge Berge, filed suit in Essex Superior Court in 2015, arguing that the taxi company classifies its drivers as "independent contractors," rather than employees, and denies them minimum wage and overtime pay. Gloucester Taxi pays its drivers a portion of each fare, but Berg's suit alleged that they do not make sure the drivers make minimum wage during slow periods when drivers are waiting for a fare.
Superior Court Judge Christopher Barry-Smith has ruled that Berge was an employee of the company as a matter of law, regardless of the company's attempt to pay the driver as an "independent contractor."
"The law is clear," Berge's lawyer, Michael Bace, said in a statement. "Suggesting that this is the way it's always been done, or the company can't afford to pay minimum wage, is no excuse for treating workers in this fashion."
Berge, a local musician and songwriter, drove a cab for Gloucester Taxi from April 2012 through March 2013. According to the lawsuit, Berge and other Gloucester Taxi drivers received 40 percent of each fare the company collects from customers, and keeps 100 percent of their tips. Berge drove an average of two nights, or 20 hours, a week at the time.
Gloucester Taxi owner Jeffrey Young, cited as a defendant in Berge's lawsuit, claimed when the suit was filed that the split has long been the payment format. Young refused to comment earlier this wee.
"We hear this frequently from business owners saying, 'This is the way it's always been in the taxi industry.' They pay a portion of the fare and if they sit there for six hours, tough. It’s a tough life for taxi drivers," said Bace. "Not only is that not right, it's not legal."
A trial to determine the extent to which Berge was not paid minimum wage and overtime has yet to be scheduled.
"We anticipate that at that trail we will show there were plenty of days, mostly of late nights, that he worked and he was denied — he didn't make the minimum wage," Bace said in a phone interview. "We're confident that we will show that the plaintiff didn’t make minimum wage, particularly in the winter time, and he is entitled to money."
The lawsuit, filed by Bace of Boston, does not seek a specific dollar amount for damages. But Bace said that he will be seeking treble damages based on what Berge would have made had he been paid as an hourly employee at minimum wage, which is $11 per hour.
The company is required by law to make sure their employees are making minimum wage. Bace said that this case isn't unique; employers often label workers as independent contractors to avoid paying minimum wage and overtime.
"There are dozens of other drivers in the same position," Bace said. "This is a statewide problem. It runs rampant — whether they're taxi drives, limo drivers — all other industries. It runs rampant — being classified as independent contractors when in actuality they're employees."
Mary Markos may be contacted at 978-338-2660 or firstname.lastname@example.org