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Suit argues couriers are not contractors



By Sacha Pfeiffer,

Boston Globe, March 7, 2007

A state class-action lawsuit filed yesterday draws a new industry into the debate over whether workers are independent contractors, who are not entitled to overtime pay and other benefits, or employees, who are: courier services.

The civil suit against Breakaway Courier Systems alleges that the Boston messenger service breaks state law by classifying its couriers as independent contractors, a status that makes them ineligible for overtime, unemployment pay, and workers' compensation, saving the company significant money in employee benefits.

Breakaway has continued to label its workers contractors even though the state Appeals Court ruled in 2002 that a bike messenger at Boston Bicycle Couriers -- a company Breakaway bought several years ago -- was an employee, not a contract worker. The Boston lawyer who filed yesterday's suit, Shannon Liss-Riordan, argues that that ruling "unquestionably applies to Breakaway," which provides delivery services by foot, bicycle, and vehicle.

Filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the suit, which is seeking class-action status, contends that Breakaway's couriers "are not truly entrepreneurs who have the opportunity to grow a business" -- the definition of an independent contractor -- "but are, instead, employees who have little discretion in what work they perform and how they perform it."

Breakaway has offices in New York and Boston, but the lawsuit targets only the Boston operation. A manager at the Boston office who refused to provide his full name said the company "has no knowledge of this lawsuit" and declined to comment.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Boston resident William Simonds, worked as a courier for Breakaway from 2004 to November 2006, according to the suit.










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