Appeals court sides with newspaper carriers in independent contractor dispute

In a published decision last week, a San Diego court of appeal upheld a trial court’s judgment against the former owner of the Union-Tribune which found that the newspaper’s carriers were employees rather than independent contractors.

One of the most troubling aspects of the decision was the appeals court’s approval of the trial court’s refusal to recognize and apply the 30-year old EDD regulations that were created for the express purpose of determining whether a newspaper carrier is a contractor or an employee.

Nearly all California newspapers that contract with carriers adhere closely to the EDD regulations in their distribution practices.

The 81-page opinion also rejected the Union-Tribune’s contention that the trial court erred in certifying the class.

In the case, Espejo v. Copley Press, the carriers alleged they were misclassified as independent contractors and, as a result, were entitled to back pay and reimbursable expenses.

The trial court awarded $4,953,795 in restitution to the class and $6,160,416 in attorney’s fees of which $1,250,000 was to be paid out of the award to the class. The appellate court sent the case back to the trial court and directed the court to make certain adjustments to the amount of the restitution and attorneys’ fees awards.

Staff has been unable to confirm whether a decision has yet been made to appeal the case to the California Supreme Court.