TIME Crime

Video Shows Cop Fatally Shooting Schizophrenic Man, Family Says

Catherine Daniels, the mother of Lavall Hall, 25, who was shot and killed by Miami Gardens police on Feb. 15, 2015,
Joe Raedle—Getty Images Catherine Daniels, the mother of Lavall Hall, 25, who was shot and killed by Miami Gardens police on Feb. 15, 2015,

Police can be heard telling Lavall Hall, 25, to “get the f--- on the ground or you’re dead"

The family of a 25-year-old mentally ill man who was shot dead by police in Miami Gardens, Fla. earlier this year released a 19-minute video on Wednesday showing the fatal shooting.

Lavall Hall’s mother called police on Feb. 15 for help with her son, who she said has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and when police arrived they found Hall outside the home in only his underwear, carrying a broomstick, attorneys for the family said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Hall’s mother had hoped police would take her son to a hospital. The family’s attorneys say police officers then approached Hall with excessive force.

In the dash-cam video, posted below, police can be heard telling Hall to “get the f— on the ground or you’re dead.” One officer then backs into the frame, firing five shots at Hall.

Police say Hall attacked them with deadly force, which is why they shot him. The family has filed a lawsuit against the police department and local authorities are investigating.

The Florida State Attorney’s office told ABC News they feared the video would hurt the ongoing investigation into the shooting, but they could not stop the family from releasing the footage.

TIME States

Colorado Says Baker Didn’t Discriminate in Refusing to Make Anti-Gay Cake

Bakery owner Marjorie Silva, who refused to write hateful words about gays on a cake for a customer, stands inside her own Azucar Bakery, in Denver, on Jan. 20, 2015.
Ivan Moreno—AP Bakery owner Marjorie Silva, who refused to write hateful words about gays on a cake for a customer, stands inside her own Azucar Bakery, in Denver, on Jan. 20, 2015.

Colorado Civil Rights Division said she was within legal rights to deny cake orders featuring "derogatory language and imagery"

A Colorado government agency has ruled that a baker who refused to make cakes featuring anti-gay messages did not discriminate against the man who requested them.

Last year, William Jack asked Denver’s Azucar Bakery for two bible-shaped cakes featuring images of groomsmen crossed out with a red “X” and phrases like “Homosexuality is a detestable sin. Leviticus 18.2,” local ABC station NEWS7 Denver reports. The bakery’s owner, Marjorie Silva, told Jack she would make the bible-shaped cakes and provide icing for him to add his own message, but she wouldn’t apply such “hateful and offensive” messages because her bakery “does not discriminate.”

Jack complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Division, accusing Silva of denying him goods or services based on his religion. But the agency recently ruled that Silva’s refusal to make the cakes was motivated by the “derogatory language and imagery,” and not because of religious discrimination. “In the same manner [she] would not accept [an order from] anyone wanting to make a discriminatory cake against Christians, [she] will not make one that discriminates against gays,” the ruling stated. Last year, the agency ruled that another bakery in the state could not refuse a gay couple’s request for a wedding cake.

Silva, who is Catholic and whose bakery in the past has made cakes for Christian holidays that featured religious imagery, said she was pleased to learn she was “not [only] morally right but also legally right.”

Jack told 7NEWS that he plans to appeal the decision. “I find it offensive that the Colorado Civil Rights Division considers the baker’s claims that Bible verses were discriminatory as the reason for denying my claim,” he said.

[ABC 7NEWS]

TIME justice

Fraternity Plans to Sue Rolling Stone Over Campus-Rape Article

The university's chapter of Phi Kappa Psi plans to "pursue all available legal action against the magazine"

The University of Virginia chapter of Phi Kappa Psi said Monday it plans to sue Rolling Stone magazine, one day after the publication retracted a controversial story about a gang rape allegedly committed by some of the fraternity’s members.

“After 130 days of living under a cloud of suspicion as a result of reckless reporting by Rolling Stone Magazine, today the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi announced plans to pursue all available legal action against the magazine,” it said.

The announcement follows the release of a lengthy investigation into Rolling Stone’s handling of the story by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. That report, issued Sunday, found significant problems at every stage of the reporting, editing and fact-checking process and called the piece “a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable.”

Rolling Stone has apologized for the discredited story, although publisher Jann Wenner has reportedly chosen not to fire anyone as a result.

“The report by Columbia University’s School of Journalism demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article that erroneously accused Phi Kappa Psi of crimes its members did not commit,” Stephen Scipione, president of the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, said in the statement. “This type of reporting serves as a sad example of a serious decline of journalistic standards.”

The Nov. 19 publication of the Rolling Stone story upended the idyllic campus, turning it into the heated center of the national debate over campus sexual assault. The fraternity’s house was vandalized as outrage over the allegations in the story spread. But questions were soon raised about the credibility of the story. And in March, Charlottesville police said investigators were “not able to conclude to any substantive degree” that the incident had occurred.

“Clearly our fraternity and its members have been defamed, but more importantly we fear this entire episode may prompt some victims to remain in the shadows, fearful to confront their attackers,” Scipione said. “If Rolling Stone wants to play a real role in addressing this problem, it’s time to get serious.”

Students say the unraveling of Rolling Stone’s story has helped redeem the fraternity’s reputation on campus. “I think people have a great deal of remorse about how they spoke about Phi Psi in the fall,” says Abraham Axler, UVA’s student-council president.

The national Phi Kappa Psi fraternity has not yet decided whether it will join any legal action filed by the UVA chapter.

“We could do any array of things between us supporting them, partnering with them, or standing on the sidelines. We have not made those decisions on a national organization level yet. We plan on a release later today at some point ” said Chad Stegemiller, Phi Kappa Psi’s national assistant executive director.

Timothy Burke, a lawyer who represents fraternities and sororities, believes the detailed examination of Rolling Stone’s missteps in the Columbia report will help Phi Kappa Psi’s case.

“The potential for punitive damages are great in this case because Rolling Stone so badly blew every ethical journalistic obligation, according to what the Columbia school of journalism has to say,” says Burke, a partner at Fraternal Law Partners.

Any lawsuit would open the fraternity to potentially damaging information unearthed during the discovery process, such as evidence of underage drinking or drug use, but Burke says it’s unlikely to be enough to outweigh the benefits of bringing the case in the face of such shocking allegations.

“Any plaintiff’s council is going to advise his clients about the risks of litigation and what can happen in terms of discovery,” he says. “I would not be shocked to find out that underage students had a drink or two in the fraternity house. But that’s very different than saying that multiple members of that chapter engaged in gang rape.”

Read next: Rolling Stone Apologizes, Retracts Discredited Rape Story

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Supreme Court

The Robert Menendez Corruption Charges Undermine the Supreme Court

Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez listens to testimony during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on March 11, 2015.
Mark Wilson–Getty Images Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez listens to testimony during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on March 11, 2015.

The Supreme Court said super PACs aren't prone to corruption. Prosecutors are alleging otherwise in a case against Sen. Robert Menendez.

Correction appended, April 2

In his 2010 State of the Union, President Obama famously criticized the Supreme Court’s logic on a campaign finance decision even as several justices sat in the audience.

Now, prosecutors at the U.S. Justice Department have found an even better way to make the case.

In their indictment of New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, prosecutors have called foul on one of the central arguments for the court’s interpretation of campaign finance law in the Citizens United decision.

The indictment alleges that Florida opthamologist Solomon Melgen corruptly showered Menedez with gifts intended to influence official acts, from procuring visas for his foreign girlfriends to intervening in a dispute over Medicare billing. Among those things of value, according to prosecutors, was $600,000 in donations from Melgen’s company, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, earmarked to help Menedez’s reelection through a super PAC called Majority PAC.

Those donations came two years after Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a majority of the court in Citizens United v. FEC, ruled that such contributions to outside groups not directly controlled by candidates presented no risk of corruption or the appearance of corruption.

“This Court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Kennedy wrote. “That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.”

This argument was central to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow outside groups to collect and spend unlimited amounts of money to explicitly call for the election and defeat of a candidate for federal office. Since the money technically went to an organization not controlled by the candidate, the court reasoned, there was no sufficient government interest to stop it.

The indictment of Menendez, however, reveals in great detail the extent to which “independent” groups like Majority PAC have found ways to operate in close coordination with the candidate. And if Menendez is convicted, the case will prove that corruption can still be facilitated through these outside groups.

“The Citizens United court majority was obviously wrong in 2010 when it declared that independent expenditures can’t corrupt,” says Paul Ryan, an attorney for the Campaign Legal Center, who has long been critical of the decision. “Now we have concrete alleged evidence of how independent expenditures do corrupt.”

The indictment alleges that Melgen gave the money to support Menendez in two checks of $300,000. The first check was given on June 1, 2012, the very day when Melgen served on the host committee of Menendez’s annual fundraising event in New Jersey. Melgen allegedly gave the check to “a close personal friend” of the Senator at the fundraiser, who sent the check by FedEx to a person working to raise money for Majority PAC with a note saying “earmarked for New Jersey.” (That clearly meant Menendez. Majority PAC focused its spending on Democratic Senate races, and he was the only Democratic Senate candidate that year from New Jersey.)

Melgen issued a second check on October 12, 2012, less than a month before the election, prosecutors allege. An email from a fundraiser that accompanied the second check also read “earmarked for New Jersey.”

About six days after Melgen issued the first check, Menendez allegedly advocated on Melgen’s behalf in a Medicare billing dispute with the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. About a month later, Menendez sought a meeting with the Secretary of Health and Human Services to discuss Melgen’s concerns.

“During Menendez’s meeting with the Secretary of HHS, Menendez advocated on behalf of Melgen’s position in his Medicare billing dispute, focusing on Melgen’s specific case and asserting that Melgen was being treated unfairly,” the indictment reads. “The Secretary of HHS disagreed with Menendez’s position.”

After Melgen gave the second $300,000 check, Melgen separately emailed Menendez and a fundraiser for Senate Majority PAC a document asking again for Health and Human Services to intervene on his behalf in the Medicare billing dispute, the indictment claims. The fundraiser for the Senate Majority PAC wrote back by email that he would pass the information on to another senator, identified in the legal documents as Senator 3. “Dear Sal, I’m going to see him on Tuesday. I will give this to him directly. Is that ok?”

Menendez has maintained this innocence, and says he plans to fight the charges.

Correction: This post initially misidentified the senator that a fundraiser for Senate Majority PAC promised to communicate with on Melgen’s behalf.

Read next: New Jersey Senator Faces Corruption Charges

TIME Crime

America’s Largest Death Row Has Run Out of Room

San Quentin Prison shown on July 10, 2013, in Larkspur, Califo.
George Rose—Getty Images San Quentin Prison shown on July 10, 2013, in Larkspur, Califo.

708 out of 715 death row cells at San Quentin are occupied

California has not seen an execution for nearly a decade and, with an anticipated 20 new arrivals per year, the largest execution system in the U.S. has run out of room.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Governor Jerry Brown has requested $3.2 million in special funding to expand death row at San Quentin State Prison by 97 cells — utilizing facilities that have become free thanks to an overall drop in the state’s inmates following voter approval last fall of Proposition 47 (which reclassified most nonviolent drug crimes as misdemeanors).

Official documents obtained by the Times say “it is not feasible to delay the approval and implementation of this proposal.”

But because California’s death row has been embroiled in litigation for years, the expansion plans for San Quentin could be a stopgap solution at best.

On July 16, 2014, Orange County federal Judge Cormac J. Carney deemed the state’s death penalty to be unconstitutional. The last California inmate to be executed was Clarence Ray Allen in 2006 and since then 49 inmates have died from other causes.

“Until the litigation is resolved, this cost-effective proposal allows [the state corrections department] to safely house condemned inmates going forward,” corrections-department spokeswoman Terry Thornton told the Times.

San Quentin, just north of San Francisco, can house 715 condemned inmates and currently 708 prisoners reside in the cells. Twenty women are housed in the Central California Women’s Facility (near Chowchilla, Calif.) and another 23 prisoners are held at locations throughout the state due to various extenuating circumstances.

Governor Brown’s proposal is scheduled for a hearing in late April.

TIME justice

Will Congress Reform the Criminal Justice System?

Civil rights activist Van Jones speaks onstage at '#YesWeCode: From The 'Hood To Silicon Valley' during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center in Austin on March 16, 2015.
Robert A Tobiansky–Getty Images Civil rights activist Van Jones speaks onstage at '#YesWeCode: From The 'Hood To Silicon Valley' during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center in Austin on March 16, 2015.

There's bipartisan backing, but that doesn't mean a bill will pass

Correction appended, March 27

Van Jones likes to call his Republican buddies “brother.” As in Brother Mark (Holden, the general counsel at Koch Industries), or Brother Matt (Kibbe, the CEO of the conservative group FreedomWorks). Jones, a Democratic activist and former Obama adviser, beamed as he strolled the halls of a cavernous Washington hotel Thursday, clasping shoulders and squeezing hands with one unlikely conservative ally after the next. And Jones wasn’t the only one basking in the warm vibes of bipartisanship.

If you mistakenly wandered into the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform, you might have thought you had fallen into an alternate universe. Scores of liberal and conservative activists, policy wonks and lawmakers gathered for an all-day conference that seemed to defy all the old saws about Washington gridlock. Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich lauded Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who volleyed back praise for his Republican partners. Even Attorney General Eric Holder drew warm applause in a ballroom dotted with conservatives.

But as unusual as that may be in Washington, it’s becoming a routine sight when it comes to criminal justice reform. In recent months, a growing bipartisan alliance has formed around the need to change a prison system that critics say is broken and bloated. Thursday’s crowd was the clearest sign yet of the coalition’s breadth. “When you have an idea whose time has come,” said Jones, one of the hosts of the summit, “it winds up being an unstoppable force.”

Maybe. But it’s never easy in Washington to channel a cause into actual change. A show of force is not a strategy. Despite general agreement about the problems riddling the justice system, it remains unclear how a collection of interest groups with divergent ideologies can marshal their money and organizing muscle to move bills through a fractious Congress—all before the 2016 presidential election puts the legislative process on pause.

The good news is the array of powerful figures who have united behind the idea. Activists and policy groups on the left (such as the Center for American Progress and the American Civil Liberties Union) are working with traditional foes on the right (such as the Kochs, the American Conservative Union and Right on Crime) as well as nonpartisan groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums. In Congress, the cadre of lawmakers who have teamed up on criminal-justice reform legislation run the ideological gamut, from Democratic Senators Booker, Pat Leahy and Sheldon Whitehouse to Republicans counterparts Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Rob Portman and John Cornyn.

The unlikely alliances have formed in part because the problem is so obvious. The percentage of incarcerated Americans has ballooned 500% over the past three decades; the nation’s prison population, at 2.2 million people, surpasses that of any other developed nation. The one-in-three Americans with a criminal record struggle to reintegrate into society because of restrictions on housing, voting and employment—which in turn promotes recidivism. Liberals deplore a system that disproportionately punishes minorities and the poor for petty crimes, while many conservatives have long been appalled by the moral and fiscal issues associated with the soaring U.S. incarceration rate.

Whether the legislative branch has the ability to tackle these sprawling issues remains an open question. “The way Congress moves is at a glacial pace,” said Booker, a freshman Senator from New Jersey. “This is not going to change unless we push and fight and work together.”

A big part of the battle is figuring out the best place to start. In the Senate, one option is a bill sponsored by Whitehouse and Cornyn, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, which is designed to reduce recidivism and help nonviolent prisoners transition back into society after serving time. An earlier version of the bill sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2014 with the support of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who now serves as the committee’s chairman. As chairman, Grassley’s support for the legislation is crucial. His reticence to reforming mandatory minimum sentencing is one reason why the Cornyn-Whitehouse bill is thought to have a better chance of success than a popular mandatory-minimum bill sponsored by Booker, Paul and others.

Grassley’s counterpart in the House, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, is another Republican steeped in the tough-on-crime ethos that long reigned in the party. But the House GOP has a host of respected leaders who are on board with criminal justice reforms, from Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan to fellow Wisconsin conservative Jim Sensenbrenner, who advocates identify as a key player in any deal to get a bill through the House.

Gingrich, a co-host of Thursday’s summit, said the key would be to gather support in the Senate first. “If you build a big enough bipartisan majority in the Senate, it’s going to pass,” said Gingrich, who argued that as a cause, criminal justice had little in common with comprehensive immigration-reform, another recent bipartisan issue with plenty of hype and heavy hitters behind it, but which ultimately stalled in Congress.

Unlike immigration reform, “there’s no massive opposition to rethinking how we’ve been incarcerating people,” Gingrich argued, predicting that each 2016 Republican presidential contender would support some form of justice reform. “There’s a much, much bigger consensus.”

There’s also an urgency to capitalize before presidential politics grinds the legislative machinery of the capital to a halt. On a panel Thursday morning, Democratic commentator Donna Brazile predicted a comprehensive criminal justice bill could pass by the end of the year. “I think we’ve got to get it done in 2015,” said Kibbe of the Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks, “before we get back in our corners and start fighting again.”

Correction: The original version of this story identified Families Against Mandatory Minimums as a left-leaning group. It is nonpartisan.

TIME justice

U.S. Agents Attended ‘Sex Parties’ Funded by Colombian Drug Cartels, Report Says

Some of the DEA officers may have received expensive gifts from the drug cartel

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers participated in “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by drug cartels while on assignment in Colombia, according to allegations in a new report.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) report, a review of sexual misconduct allegations at several law enforcement agencies, cited widespread missteps at the agencies, including the failure of supervisors to report misconduct, inadequate guidelines for handling some behavior and a resistance to cooperating with DOJ requests.

The “sex parties” in particular were listed as an example of weak security operations at the DEA. Some of the DEA officers may have received expensive gifts from the drug cartel, the report found. Ten DEA officers admitted that they had attended the parties and were suspended for a period that ranged from 2 to 10 days. Despite the punishment, the officers did not have to undergo a review of their security clearance, according to the report.

The report also said that agencies need to clarify rules on whether officers can patronize prostitutes in countries where the practice is legal or tolerated.

“When employees of law enforcement components commit sexual misconduct or sexual harassment…it affects the component’s reputation, undermines its credibility, and potentially compromises the government’s efforts in prosecutions,” the report reads.

The DEA referred questions on Thursday to the Justice Department.

DOJ commissioned the investigation in 2012 in response to allegations regarding DEA officers’ use of prostitutes. At the time, Secret Service officers were also under fire for similar behavior.

TIME Afghanistan

Thousands Are Protesting in Afghanistan Over the Savage Lynching of a Young Woman

Her death is as a symbol of the injustice and violence faced by many, especially women, in the country

Large numbers of people took to the streets in the Afghan capital Kabul for a second day on Tuesday, protesting against the brutal death of a woman who was falsely accused of burning the Quran and killed by an enraged mob.

Men and women painted their faces red and carried banners bearing pictures of 27-year-old Farkhunda’s bloody face while chanting, “Justice for Farkhunda” and “Death to the killers,” reports the Associated Press.

Farkhunda, a religious scholar, was beaten and run over by a car before her lifeless body was burned and thrown into the Kabul River by a mob last Thursday.

She had been arguing with a local mullah about his practice of selling amulets to women at a shrine. During the argument, she was accused of burning the Muslim holy book and a crowd overheard and attacked her.

An official has confirmed that Farkhunda did not desecrate the Quran.

Demonstrators on Tuesday called for action against officials and religious leaders who initially said her death was justified.

A spokesperson for Kabul police, Hasmat Stanikzai, was fired over comments he made on social media supporting her killers.

According to AP, 28 people have so far been arrested and 13 police officers have been suspended over the incident.

Some demonstrators see Farkhunda’s death as a symbol of the injustice and violence faced by many people, especially women, in the country.

“She is an example of probably what has happened silently to many,” Amrullah Saleh, a political leader and former director of the state intelligence service, told AP. “She drew a line with her blood between those who want justice, rule of law, and those who are extreme in their views and who breed in lawlessness”

[AP]

TIME food and drink

Your Cheap Wine Might Be High in Arsenic

Lawsuits claims Franzia and Trader Joe wines contained high levels of the known carcinogen

A class action lawsuit in California claims there are high levels of arsenic in some varieties of low-cost wine.

The lawsuit says wines including Franzia White Grenache, Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck White Zinfandel, and Menage a Trois Moscato had between three and five times the amount of arsenic the Environmental Protection Agency allows in drinking water. Arsenic is a known carcinogen that can lead to other serious health problems.

According to CBS News, which first reported the story on Thursday, a laboratory analyzed over 1,300 bottles of wine and found nearly one in four had arsenic levels higher than the EPA permits in water. The laboratory found cheap wines had the highest levels of arsenic. The lawsuit accuses more than 24 winemakers of having unsafe wine.

Wine is not regulated by the federal government, and the Wine Group, which distributes Franzia wine and is named in the lawsuit, told CBS comparing wine to water is misguided because most people consume more water than wine.

Treasury Wine Estates, another company named in the lawsuit, said its “brands are fully compliant with all relevant federal and state guidelines.” Trader Joe’s said in a statement they are “investigating the matter with several of our wine producing suppliers.”

The lawyer filing the suit said his ultimate goal is to get the wines recalled, get companies to distribute refunds and “ultimately clean up the wine industry in California.”

[CBS News]

Read next: Calorie Count Coming Soon to a Can of Guinness Near You

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TIME Courts

Homejoy, Postmates, and Try Caviar Sued Over Labor Practices

The complaints allege that workers at the on-demand startups are employees and not independent contractors

Three more companies in the exploding on-demand economy have been sued over their labor practices, a day after it emerged a class action lawsuit was pending against grocery startup Instacart.

The lawsuits filed on Thursday contend that workers for house-cleaning company Homejoy, as well as delivery service companies Postmates and Try Caviar, have been misclassified as independent contractors when they should be treated like employees. The class action complaints were filed in California’s Northern District Court, where similar lawsuits are already pending against Uber, Lyft and Instacart.

Postmates and Try Caviar are both primarily in the business of facilitating delivery from restaurants that don’t normally deliver. Customers places orders for food through their apps and orders are dispatched to couriers who pick up and deliver the food to the customers’ homes or offices, using their own personal transportation. On Wednesday, Postmates announced it had partnered with Starbucks to deliver food and beverages in Seattle.

The cleaners working for Homejoy use their own cleaning supplies and transportation to do jobs they get through Homejoy. The companies take a cut of the proceeds, whether a fare, an hourly wage or delivery fee.

The lawyer behind many of the cases is Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Boston-based labor lawyer who specializes in worker classification. She first filed the case against Uber on behalf of drivers in 2013, which claims thousands of workers in California are owed for expenses like gas and vehicle maintenance.

The publicity from that case has put her much in demand from people working similar jobs at other startups who believe they are being treated unjustly, she says. Today she filed separate class action complaints on behalf of workers for those three San Francisco-based companies. If the court approves the class, the suits could potentially affect thousands around the U.S.

“When companies have control over their workers, when they get to dictate how they should act, when they get to decide whether they can work or not work,” Liss-Riordan says, “those are employees. These are the workers carrying out the services that these companies provide. So these workers are entitled to the protections of the law, to get their expenses reimbursed, to be guaranteed overtime, to make [at least] minimum wage.”

Homejoy and Postmates did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this article. Try Caviar declined to comment, as did Instacart about its own pending litigation.

One of the key issues in the case is determining exactly what business these companies are in. These on-demand companies say they are merely middle-man technology companies connecting people who want a service with someone willing to provide it. Homejoy, for instance, bills itself as a marketplace where people willing to clean homes can connect with people who want their homes cleaned through their platform. Its terms of service are explicit:

THE COMPANY DOES NOT PROVIDE CLEANING SERVICES, AND THE COMPANY IS NOT A CLEANING SERVICE PROVIDER. IT IS UP TO THE THIRD PARTY CLEANING SERVICE PROVIDER TO OFFER CLEANING SERVICES WHICH MAY BE SCHEDULED THROUGH USE OF THE SOFTWARE OR SERVICE.

But other marketing materials and advertisements often send conflicting messages. Homejoy uses first person pronouns on their website, telling potential users: “If you’re not 100% satisfied with your cleaning, we’ll come back and re-clean it!” If Liss-Riordan can prove in court that companies like Homejoy and Uber are in fact cleaning companies or transportation companies and not just middle-men that could help convince the courts that the workers are in fact employees.

“You can’t name yourself out of employer status,” says Harvard law professor Benjamin Sachs. “The realities matter because if Uber is really a transportation company—and by that we mean they’re involved in many aspects of actually providing rides, screening drivers, hiring drivers, setting rates—that’s like a taxi company with a new technology. That doesn’t change anything important about the nature of employment.” Uber has said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation.

The complaints contend that workers for each of the platforms are owed reimbursements for expenses like vehicle maintenance, cleaning supplies and gas they used to get from job to job, as well as overtime and in some cases minimum wage. The suits against Postmates and Try Caviar also contend that the companies are unfairly competing, by not paying for expenses that delivery companies with employee couriers would, like unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation.

“There seems to be this new wave of companies coming up that seem to be copying one another and thinking that it’s okay to do this because they call themselves technology companies,” Liss-Riordan says. “There’s nothing new about this. These workers should be entitled to the protections of employees.”

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