The lawyer who negotiated an $84 million settlement with Uber Inc. has offered to reduce her cut of the payout by nearly half to $11 million, after criticism that the proposed deal doesn’t do enough for drivers.
“I want to help ensure that the drivers get the benefit of the settlement that I won for them,” Boston labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan said. “I cut the fee in order to emphasize that this settlement was good for the class and was not about my firm’s fee.”
Liss-Riordan sued Uber in 2013 on behalf of about 385,000 current and former Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts, arguing the ride-hailing company should stop treating the drivers as freelancers and instead give them the pay and benefits afforded to employees.
Under a preliminary settlement reached in April, Uber agreed to pay $84 million to drivers — $100 million if the company goes public later on — in proportion to how many miles each drove. The company also agreed to stop removing drivers that refuse too many potential fares from its network, to only “deactivate” drivers for violating specific clauses in a new driver policy, and to stop suggesting to passengers that tips are included in its fares.
But a number of drivers and the federal judge overseeing the case questioned whether Uber made sufficient concessions. Analysts have described the deal as a win for Uber, since it allows the company to continue classifying its drivers as independent contractors. Some drivers have also blasted Liss-Riordan for proposing her firm receive a standard fee of 25 percent, or $21 million, while they are set to take home about $8,000 or less each. (The fee would increase to $25 million if Uber goes public.)
Liss-Riordan defended herself forcefully against both charges. The benefits of the settlement far outweigh the risks of taking the case to trial, she said, and any fee will compensate her and her staff for years of work.
“I am offended by the allegations that I settled the case for the fees,” Liss-Riordan said. “I reached an agreement that I believe is in the best interests of the class. Anyone who has known me and followed my work over these years knows that.”
She also defended the contingency fee system in general, noting that such payouts “make it possible for low-wage workers to pursue these kinds of cases.” She noted that in previous class-action suits she has spearheaded, unfavorable rulings have resulted in her receiving no pay for thousands of hours of work.
Still, Liss-Riordan said, she decided to cut her fee substantially and give the difference to drivers as a sign of good faith — and to encourage the judge to approve the settlement.
Not everyone is impressed with the offer. Attorneys for Douglas O’Connor, a driver who is objecting to the settlement, called Liss-Riordan’s fee “arbitrary” and pointed to a filing in which Liss-Riordan admits she did not keep hour-by-hour records of the time she spent working on the case.
“Like the settlement it relates to, Ms. Riordan’s voodoo math used to support her fee is entirely arbitrary, capricious, and unjustifiable,” O’Connor’s attorneys wrote. “No amount of reduction in fees will assuage concerns raised by class members, objectors, and the Court regarding the fact the proposed settlement seeks the release — for almost zero consideration — of dozens of claims.”
Liss-Riordan has dismissed such criticism as coming from lawyers who want money for themselves but lack her experience in large-scale labor claims.