This summer Uber settled two separate TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) lawsuits with a single $20 million settlement, demonstrating that various forms of communication are subject to the same litigation. Whether communicating to potential employees or potential clients, compliance is vital to avoiding costly payouts. After years of litigation Uber ultimately settled on both cases in early August.
The first lawsuit, Lathrop et al. v. Uber Technologies Inc., originated in 2014 from a group of plaintiffs in California who were contacted after starting to fill out, but not completing a form to join Uber as drivers. The second, Vergara v. Uber Technologies Inc., came from Maria Vergara in March of 2015, who claims to have been contacted with account verification messages when she never intended to set up an account. Both lawsuits allege text messages were automatically sent, in violation of the TCPA, without proper consent.
Uber’s lawyers stalled and avoided providing incriminating information, attempting to have the Lathrop case dismissed as “unmeritorious.” But TCPA litigation is difficult for any business to defend, even one with a robust and experienced legal team. According to TopClassActions, “Uber’s corporate designee struggled in court to answer questions related to the text messaging program and how text messages are sent to potential drivers.” Their effort to stall may have delayed payout, but ultimately did not spare the company, as the plaintiffs responded that the “evidence gathered to date, albeit incomplete due to Uber’s obstruction, is wholly consistent with the allegations.” The courts would eventually reach the same conclusion.
With most TCPA settlements, the issue comes down to the defendant’s inability to prove that consent was provided. With the Vergara case, Uber attempted to place the burden of proof on the plaintiff, as the TCPA specifies that in order for contact to be illegal it has to be from an autodialing system. Uber filed a motion to dismiss the Vergara case on this basis, arguing her messages were not evidence of autodialing. However the motion was denied and litigation resumed.
In March of 2017, Vergara agreed to enter mediation. Later the plaintiffs in the Lathrop case opted to join the settlement, the merits of which finally came to fruition in August of this year, at a cost of $20 million to Uber.
These cases together show that different forms of communication, messages to potential new hires or to potential new accounts, can violate the TCPA in the exact same manner. It is essential that business owners be aware that the TCPA is far broader than simply regulating robocalls. Communications automated by a proprietary app or in response to a partially completed form are equally subject to the TCPA. More than ever it is important for businesses to seek out third party solutions, such as TrustedForm, that provide the necessary proof of consent from an objective third party.
TCPA litigation has risen 940% in the past 5 years. Settlements resulting from even a single unsolicited text message or phone call can cost businesses millions of dollars. Check out our TCPA settlements page to view recent examples.