An Athens woman filed a class action lawsuit this week in federal court against California-based grocery delivery service Instacart, alleging the business misclassified its workers as contractors and violated labor laws in an effort to avoid providing them with certain benefits.
Shanda Bolin has been employed by Instacart, which operates under the business name of Maplebear, Inc., since May, the civil complaint said. She reportedly incurred expenses related to her work including vehicle maintenance, fuel, insurance and other driving-related expenses — for all of which she was not reimbursed, according to the lawsuit.
Instacart is a grocery shopping and delivery service whose workers operate through the business’ app and shop for groceries from various stores and then deliver the goods to Instacart customers, although the lawsuit said that Instacart does not recognize itself as a grocery delivery business, rather a “technology company that offers a proprietary communications and logistics platform.”
“Instacart uses these tech-heavy buzzwords to brand itself as something other than what it really is — a grocery delivery service subject to the same employment laws as any other employer,” the lawsuit alleged. The suit further said that the business’ workers, also referred to as “shoppers,” were “completely dependent on the Instacart platform to perform grocery delivery work” and not engaged with grocery delivery outside of their work with Instacart.
The lawsuit noted that under federal labor laws and Ohio’s minimum wage statue, these shoppers are “presumptive employees entitled to labor law protections,” including minimum wage, overtime compensation, workers’ compensation insurance coverage and other employee benefits.
“By misclassifying Shoppers as independent contractors … Instacart denied them these rights, shifting all risk to Shoppers and saving itself millions overhead in the process,” the lawsuit alleged.
Instacart, along with other on-demand services like Uber and Lyft, have come under fire in recent years for classifying gig economy workers as contractors and the companies have gone to great lengths to prevent them from becoming employees.
Gig economy companies, including Instacart, spent more than $200 million this year to prevent a California initiative that aimed to make contractors full employees from becoming law in what became the most expensive ballot measure campaign in state history. The initiative ultimately failed, leaving gig economy workers as contractors in California.
The suit further alleged that Instacart’s business model “extensively controlled all aspects of the Class’ jobs, as workers were required to follow multiple requirements created by Instacart — including dialogue with customers, produce selection, and workload assignments during their pre-determined shifts — and faced termination if those requirements were not met.
Additionally, shoppers were required to accept every job sent their way during an assigned shift, and if shoppers failed to complete each task, they would receive no compensation for the rest of the shift, “regardless of whether they were one minute or six hours into their shift,” the suit said.
The suit also alleged that the Instacart app, which all shoppers use to acknowledge orders and perform all work, had multiple systemic malfunctions causing the app to crash.
“Instacart penalized Shoppers for the delay they suffered due to Instacart’s malfunctioning app through negative performance evaluations, disciplinary action, termination and decreased wages,” the suit says.
The suit argued that Instacart controlled the shoppers’ wages and tips, and controlled how long their assigned shifts lasted, denying shoppers — some of whom reportedly work 60 or more hours per week — overtime pay.
Members of the class seek to recover wages lost at the hands of Instacart. No one has reportedly joined the class as of press time.
“Shanda is determined to recover wages, underpayments, and other damages owed to Instacart shoppers, drivers and delivery persons across the state of Ohio,” attorney Mike Fradin, who is representing Bolin, told The Athens NEWS. “I look forward to working with her to accomplish these goals.”
Instacart declined The Athens NEWS’ request for comment.
Ben Peters contributed to this report.