Seamen, Railroad Employees, and Uber Drivers: Applying the Section 1 Exemption in the Federal Arbitration Ace to Rideshare Drivers

Section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA or the Act) exempts “seamen, railroad employees, [and] any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce” from arbitration. In 2019, the Supreme Court held in New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira that this provision exempted independent contractors as well as employees. This decision expanded the reach of the section 1 exemption and may affect the relationship between ridesharing companies, such as Uber, and their drivers. Previously, ridesharing companies argued that courts must enforce the arbitration clauses in their employment contracts because their workers were independent contractors and, therefore, section 1 was inapplicable. Since this argument is now prohibited by the holding in New Prime, rideshare drivers have an opportunity to avoid arbitration using the section 1 exemption. But they still face legal difficulties because of the narrow construction of the exemption employed by courts. This Note argues that the current interpretation of the exemption, which focuses on the physical movement of goods across state lines, is incongruent with the text and history of the FAA and that courts should broaden the exemption to include rideshare drivers.