TIME justice

Lawsuit Claims Instacart ‘Personal Shoppers’ Should Be Classified as Employees

Kaitlin Myers a shopper for Instacart studies her smart phone as she  shops for a customer at Whole Foods in Denver.
Cyrus McCrimmon—Denver Post/Getty Images Instacart shopper Kaitlin Myers navigates through the aisles at Whole Foods in Denver.

A case filed in California's Northern District Court claims that the grocery delivery service owes workers for expenses

A new lawsuit alleges that Instacart, an on-demand grocery delivery service valued at $2 billion, misclassifies its workers as independent contractors to avoid paying expenses like overtime, reimbursements for gas and workers’ compensation.

The class action complaint, which was filed on Jan. 9th but has not been previously reported, describes Instacart’s business practices as “unethical, oppressive and unscrupulous” and seeks damages for anyone who has worked as a “shopper delivery person” for the company since 2012.

The complaint, which contains allegations similar to those in two ongoing lawsuits also pending in California’s Northern District Court against ride-app companies Uber and Lyft, is the latest potential legal hurdle for the surging on-demand economy.

“Instacart does all it can to distance itself from the employer-employee relationship,” says Bob Arns, whose San Francisco-based Arns Law Firm brought the suit on behalf of workers including Dominic Cobarruviaz, who was injured in an accident while delivering groceries for Instacart. “Why does a company want to do that? It’s to keep the bottom line lower, to unfairly compete against other companies. That’s the crux of our case.”

The suit contends that Instacart, which is two-and-a-half years old and operates in 15 markets around the U.S., has violated labor laws due to the workers’ “misclassification, unpaid workers’ compensation insurance, unpaid tax contributions, unreimbursed expenses, and related misconduct.” The complaint also claims that the company has committed fraud, knowing workers should be classified as employees, and used unfair business practices.

“[There is] this narrative that I think companies like Instacart and Uber and Lyft want to become more mainstream,” says Jonathan Davis, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, “that somehow these antiquated laws don’t apply to these types of work relationships. And frankly it’s ludicrous. Just because a worker is directed and controlled by an algorithm that comes through a phone as opposed to a foreman doesn’t do anything to change the fundamental relationship of employment.”

Instacart has not responded to requests for comment. The case names the company as Maplebear Inc., which does business as Instacart.

Instacart customers order groceries through a smartphone app, choosing items they want from their preferred store. The app then relays grocery orders to workers, who shop for the products and deliver them using their own vehicles in as little as an hour or two. The company takes a cut from a delivery fee and gets an undisclosed amount from retailers that customers buy groceries from through the app.

In late February, the case was assigned to District Judge Edward Chen, who is also hearing the Uber case, which claims that Uber drivers are employees rather than independent contractors and should be reimbursed for expenses like gas, insurance and vehicle maintenance. On March 11, Chen denied Uber’s request for a summary judgment ruling that drivers are independent contractors, saying that a jury would have to decide whether the drivers are employees or “partners,” as the company calls them. In his ruling, the judge said Uber’s claim that it is a “technology company” and not a “transportation company” is “fatally flawed.”

Instacart’s CEO Apoorva Mehta has likewise said that Instacart is a software company, not a grocery delivery company.

Arns believes that the terms the company sets out, which customers must agree to, could pass liability along to the person ordering groceries. If Instacart is “solely a communication platform” for facilitating a connection between the customer and the shopper, he says, damages from an accident or injury like the one Corbarruviaz had could be the responsibility of the customer who started the communication.

The suit rejects the idea that Instacart is simply a middle man, claiming that the company “is in the business of providing online grocery shopping and delivery service.” The suit seeks to define the class as everyone who “performed grocery delivery service” for Instacart from Jan. 1, 2012 to the present. As of June 2014, about 1,000 people were reportedly registered to shop and deliver groceries for the company. Arns estimates that the size of the class could be 10,000.

The growing independent-contractor workforce is a key reason that companies like Instacart and Uber have been able to grow so quickly. In January, Forbes put Instacart at the top of its “America’s Most Promising Companies” list. The cost of organizing independent contractors is much less than hiring employees. The companies who operate this way don’t have to pay unemployment tax or overtime, or ensure that workers are making at least minimum wage. They don’t have to pay for their own fleet of vehicles or costs associated with operating them since the workers use their personal cars. In many cases, they don’t have to pay for the smartphones or data plans workers need to do the jobs.

Arns and Davis say that after the costs of being a worker for Instacart are added up, many of them are not making minimum wage. Unlike drivers on platforms like Uber and Lyft, who can log in to work and log out at any time, personal shoppers for Instacart set their own hours in advance and work in shifts.

“We can’t sacrifice the gains that have been made over time in this country to create good, solid middle-class jobs simply at the altar of expediency and technology,” Davis says. They contend that the lawsuit is beneficial for companies in the sharing economy in the long run, even if it ends up costing them millions. “We want to see Instacart succeed,” says Arns, “and it can succeed by complying with the law.”

Corbarruviaz v. Maplebear, Inc.

Read next: This Is Where Starbucks Will Test Its Delivery Service

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME College

Penn State Frat Suspended Over Facebook Photos of Nude, Unconscious Women

Page featured images of nude, passed out women and drug sales

A fraternity at Pennsylvania State University has been suspended after police accused members of operating a secret Facebook page that featured photos of naked women apparently taken when they were unconscious.

According to WJAC, police in State College, Pa. were given a tip about two Facebook pages where members of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity allegedly posted images of drug transactions, hazing, and partially nude women. The women in the images appeared to be “passed out or sleeping,” according to police.

The Facebook pages, titled “Covert Business Transactions” and “2.0,” were invite-only. After the “Covert” page was shut down, “2.0” appeared in its place. The page had at least 150 members, including current students and alumni.

The Penn State Interfraternity Council said in a statement it has suspended the full chapter and it will undergo a “conduct review session.”

[WJAC]

Read next: The Historical Roots of Fraternity Racism

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Crime

Texas Running Out of Execution Drug

The state has four executions scheduled in April

Texas will run out of pentobarbital—its primary execution drug—the next time the state executes someone, according to a report.

“We are exploring all of our options,” Texas department of criminal justice spokesman Jason Clark told the Wall Street Journal this week. Texas has one execution scheduled for Wednesday and four more in April. Clark said the state would consider using other drugs.

The news is the latest blow to a death penalty system in the United States widely seen as faltering as a result of questions over lethal injection drugs and botched executions.

Read More: America’s Execution Problem

Many state have run out of their drug of choice for execution in recent months, leading officials to postpone some executions. Utah legislators voted last week to allow firing squad executions if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. Texas, which has executed more prisoners than any other state since the Supreme Court legalized the death penalty in 1976, has thus far remained exempt from the problems with botched executions in other states.

[WSJ]

TIME justice

Eric Garner Wikipedia Article Edited From Inside NYPD HQ

Including the use of the word "chokehold"

Key details in a Wikipedia article about the police killing of Eric Garner last August, including the use of the word “chokehold,” were changed on computers inside the New York Police Department headquarters in Manhattan.

The Wikipedia account of the confrontation between police officers and Garner, an unarmed black man who was suspected of selling loose cigarettes, was changed in several instances, including two cases in which “chokehold” was replaced once with “chokehold or headlock,” and once with “respiratory distress,” Capital New York reports.

The changes were made from IP addresses that were registered to the NYPD headquarters’ network.

“The matter is under internal review,” an NYPD spokeswoman, Det. Cheryl Crispin, wrote in an email to Capital.

Eric Garner’s Wikipedia page also contained a line that was changed from “Garner raised both his arms in the air” to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke.”

Other Wikipedia pages that detail instances of alleged police brutality were also changed from the same IP addresses. A user on 1 Police Plaza’s network tried in 2007 to delete the entry about Sean Bell, an unarmed black man who was killed by undercover NYPD officers in November 2006.

Changes were also made to the page about Amadou Diallo, who was killed when police mistook his wallet for a gun in 1999. And articles about stop-and-frisk, the age of consent in Europe and even the British Band Chumbawamba were also edited.

Read more at Capital New York

TIME Crime

Ferguson Community Shocked at Cop Shootings, Senator Says

Senator Claire McCaskill says protestors are "disappointed" by shooting of two police officers

The Ferguson community has “come together” in outrage and disappointment a day after two officers were shot in a demonstration in front of the city Police Department, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said Friday.

“Many of the protest community have spoken out in very dramatic terms about how disappointed they are that some thug would come to a peaceful protest site and commit a violent criminal act like this against police officers who are doing their jobs,” she said, echoing Attorney General Eric Holder, who called the at-large perpetrator, a “damn punk.”

The shootings came the morning after the town’s chief of police, Thomas Jackson, resigned following a Department of Justice report that found widespread racial bias among the city’s police. The city manager and a judge have also resigned after the damning report ordered by Holder after the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in August.

Ferguson remained calm overnight Thursday despite the shootings. A few hundred protesters gathered peacefully outside the police department and no fights broke out, as they had before the shootings, according to the Associated Press. The AP reports that the two officers, who were released from the hospital Thursday, were the first shot in more than seven months of protests in Ferguson.

McCaskill said Friday that the racial tension enraging Ferguson isn’t unique. “This is a bigger issue than Ferguson,” she said on the Today show. “We have a disconnect between some communities in this country and law enforcement. And law enforcement only works if the people of this country believe in it. So we’ve got to back to the drawing board [and] get back to community policing models. There is healing going on in Ferguson and there is reform going on in Ferguson. And that needs to be happening in many communities across this country.”

McCaskill’s office said she was drafting legislation to address these issues, prioritizing federal resources for body cameras for police officers and providing more oversight of federal grant and equipment programs that critics claim have militarized the nation’s police force.

TIME

Carjacking Victim Recalls ‘Terrifying’ Night at Boston Bombing Trial

In this courtroom sketch, Dun Meng, far right, testifies with a translator at his side during the federal death penalty trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston on March 12, 2015.
Jane Flavell Collins—AP In this courtroom sketch, Dun Meng, far right, testifies with a translator at his side during the federal death penalty trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston on March 12, 2015.

Older Tsarnaev brother apparently admitted his crimes during the incident

The man carjacked by the accused Boston Marathon bombers in April 2013 recalled the “terrifying” experience on Thursday during testimony in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Dun Meng told a federal court that Dzhokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan, got into his car on April 18, 2013, and pulled out a gun, Reuters reports. After flashing the magazine of the loaded weapon, Meng added, Tamerlan asked if he was familiar with the attack earlier in the week that left three people dead and more than 200 injured.

“I said, ‘Yes, I know.’ He asked, ‘Do you know who did it?’ I said, “No, I don’t.’ He said. ‘I did it and I just killed a policeman in Cambridge,'” Meng said.

The Tsarnaev brothers are accused of shooting dead MIT police officer Sean Collier before commandeering Meng’s car, from which he escaped when the brothers stopped at a gas station.

“This seems the most terrifying moment, most difficult decision in my life,” Meng said, adding that Tamerlan told him he wouldn’t be killed at the time. “I was struggling, should I trust him about that? Or should I take this chance by myself to run away?”

A gunfight with police afterward is said to have culminated with Dzhokhar driving off in Meng’s Mercedes and directly over Tamerlan, killing him. Police would find him hidden in a drydocked boat in nearby Watertown the next night.

When the trial opened last week, the legal team for Dzhokhar, 21, said their client carried out the bombing but, in a bid to spare him the death penalty, charged that Tamerlan was the mastermind. If he is found guilty by a jury, he could be sentenced to death.

[Reuters]

TIME justice

Ferguson Activists Worry About Aftermath of Shooting

Police officers stand on alert during a protests outside the Ferguson Police Department on March 11, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo.
Michael B. Thomas—Getty Images Police officers stand on alert during a protests outside the Ferguson Police Department on March 11, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo.

Activists who have been protesting the police in Ferguson, Mo., are concerned that the shooting of two officers on Wednesday will cause renewed problems and derail their efforts.

In the wake of the shootings, the St. Louis County Police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol are returning to Ferguson Thursday evening to provide security for protests until further notice.

The two agencies were among the outside law enforcement brought in during the wave of protests that erupted shortly after the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, but they left after a state of emergency expired in December.

On a press call hosted by the Advancement Project on Thursday, activists who have been involved in the demonstrations since August say the return of the county and state police does not instill confidence that there will be a “measured” response as protests continue.

“We have seen this change in responsibilities before and what it ended up with was tear gas and tanks and hornets nests being thrown in the crowd,” said activist and author Rev. Osagyefo Sekou. “This change in role and responsibility has not yielded much for our democracy. “

Activists say they will continue engaging in non-violent protests, as they have for the past 200 days since the death of Michael Brown drew national attention to the small Missouri municipality.

“We are committed to non-violence,” Sekou said Thursday.

Thursday’s shooting couldn’t have come at a worse time for activists, who were just beginning to feel like they were reaching a tipping point after months of demonstrations. Last week, the Department of Justice released a report that affirmed what they’d been arguing: that unfair targeting of African Americans within the Ferguson community by police officers was at the root of the summer’s lasting unrest. On Wednesday, activists had gathered to celebrate the news that Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson had resigned when an unknown person fired wounding two police officers.

“After over 200 days we’re finally at a place where we’re beginning, just beginning to see the possibility of progress,” said Rev. Traci Blackmon, a pastor at the Christ the King Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo. “I see this as having the potential of taking our attention off of where our focus must remain.”

She added, “ That’s why we are adamant and completely committed to not letting this derail the work that is in front of us.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 12

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Protecting whistleblowers protects national security.

By Mike German at the Brennan Center for Justice

2. Could we treat pain by switching off the region of the brain controlling that feeling?

By the University of Oxford

3. Small businesses are booming in China, and it might save their economy.

By Steven Butler and Ben Halder in Ozy

4. Not so fast: Apps using Apple’s new health technology could require FDA approval. That doesn’t come quick.

By Jonathan M. Gitlin in Ars Technica

5. We might feel better about driving electric cars, but they’re still not good for the environment.

By Bobby Magill in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME justice

Ferguson Police Chief Resigns After Damning Justice Dept. Report

Protestors and elected officials have been calling for Thomas Jackson's resignation

The police chief of Ferguson announced Wednesday he is resigning his post, after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old resulted in an excoriating Justice Department report on his department.

Thomas Jackson submitted his resignation letter on Wednesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “I believe this is the appropriate thing to do at this time,” Jackson told the newspaper. “This city needs to move forward without any distractions.”

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said at a news conference on Wednesday that Jackson and the city had agreed to a “mutual separation” that will take effect on March 19. Jackson will receive severance payment and health insurance for one year.

“He felt that this was the best forward, not only for the city but for the men and women serving under him,” Knowles said.

The Department of Justice issued a report last week that found systemic racial bias in Ferguson’s police department as well as a court system driven by profits. The report cited racial profiling by police officers and alleged that the court system functioned as a money-making enterprise that targeted the poor and minorities.

Protestors and some of Missouri’s top elected leaders had previously called on Jackson to step down from his post as police chief in the St. Louis suburb for his handling of the August shooting of teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. The shooting provoked days of often violent unrest in Ferguson, and inspired protests across the U.S.

Two police officers, a court clerk, the municipal judge and the city manager have either been fired or resigned since the shooting.

[St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

TIME justice

See Evidence From the Boston Bombing Trial

Including a bullet-ridden 'manifesto' and new surveillance footage

The writings were allegedly scribbled in pencil by Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev inside the boat where he hid before his arrest. “I am jealous of my brother who has received the ward of Jannatul Firdaus (inshallah) before me,” the writing states. “I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive.” Jannat ul Firdaus refers to the highest level of paradise in Islam.

The jury also saw newly released surveillance footage of the attacks, which identify Tsarnaev at the scene, and heard witness testimony from victims and police officers.

Read next: See the Final Moments Before Boston Bombing Suspect Was Arrested

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com