Man reading newspaper

Hearst newspaper delivery workers get $950,000 in independent contractor lawsuit

(This article is for informational purposes only – McCormack Law Firm is not involved in the Hearst Communications class action lawsuit.)

Worker misclassification has long been a topic of debate in California. While there are now laws in place that provide strict criteria for determining how workers should be classified, independent contractors are still vulnerable to exploitation. There continue to be legal challenges questioning independent contractor laws. A variety of cases have also been filed in courts to hold companies accountable for mislabeling workers and violating their rights.

California Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), in effect January 2020, sets out a three-prong test for determining whether a worker should be classified as an independent contractor. An employer must show that a worker meets all three criteria of the so-called “ABC test” to label them an independent contractor. These criteria include the worker being free from control in carrying out their tasks, the worker carrying out tasks outside of the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and the worker customarily participating in an independently established trade or business.

Another bill was later signed, however, which exempts newspaper distributors and carriers from the requirements of the ABC test. Certain other professions are also exempt, including construction trucking subcontractors and manicurists. Because of the complexities involved with AB 5, employment issues related to worker misclassification continue to arise.

A proposed class action lawsuit involving newspaper deliverers was recently resolved with a $950,000 settlement. Newspaper giant Hearst Communications, Inc. was accused of breaking multiple California labor laws in its management of independent contractors tasked with delivering newspapers. Sanchez et al. v. Hearst Communications, Inc. was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

Newspaper delivery workers alleged Hearst misclassified them as independent contractors. Independent contractors Yolanda Sanchez, Pablo Sanchez, and Monica Tejada were among the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit in 2020 on behalf of a group of 56 newspaper deliverers in California. The workers delivered the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper to the homes of subscribers.

The plaintiffs said that even though they were labeled as independent contractors, Hearst specified delivery times and had them carry out additional tasks outside of their contracts. According to the lawsuit, the newspaper deliverers were required to use their own cell phones as well as drive, fuel, maintain, and insure their own vehicles without compensation.

Hearst allegedly exploited the independent contractors in multiple ways. The company failed to pay them minimum wage and overtime pay. It also did not provide adequate meal and rest breaks or reimburse the workers for business expenses. Additionally, the newspaper deliverers worked shifts without getting uninterrupted meals and rest breaks.

Under California labor laws, independent contractors do not have the right to a meal and rest break. However, sometimes employers intentionally misclassify their workers as independent contractors to avoid providing them with meal and rest breaks or to skirt responsibilities under wage and hour laws.

Although Hearst did not admit any wrongdoing, the company avoided a jury trial by agreeing to settle the lawsuit. A federal judge granted final approval of the settlement on April 27, 2023. Class members will receive around $9,280 each.

If you are an independent contractor, you have important rights. All too often, employers try to take advantage of the non-traditional ways in which independent contractors work.

Even if an employer hired you as an independent contractor, you may actually be an employee. For example, your employer may exercise strict control over how you perform your job duties. You may be entitled to compensation for being misclassified, regardless of whether the employer did so on purpose or accidentally.

If you believe your employer has violated California labor laws in terms of wages, overtime, or other aspects of employment, contact the skilled San Francisco employment law attorneys at McCormack Law Firm. While McCormack Law Firm was not involved with this lawsuit, we have decades of experience protecting the rights of workers.

We are available for a free initial consultation. Discuss your situation with a knowledgeable lawyer to find out about your legal options. If your worker rights have been violated, you deserve compensation.

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