DirecTV rejected in Supreme Court bid to toss indie installer suit

Legal and regulatory issues
The Supreme Court ruling comes as similar suits involving other pay TV companies are winding their way through the legal system. (iStock/BCFC)

In a decision that could hold precedent for other pay TV operators who rely on third-party installation companies, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected DirecTV’s challenge to a lower court ruling stating that the satellite operator is jointly responsible for its independent contractors. 

In January 2017, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that DirecTV jointly employed under federal wage-and-hour laws satellite technicians working for Pennsylvania-based DirectSat USA. AT&T-owned DirecTV had contracted DirectSat to perform installation work for its customers. 

DirectSat workers filed suit against their company, as well as client DirecTV, alleging they were denied overtime pay.  

According to subscription legal news site Law360, the Supreme Court justices denied without comment DirecTV’s certiorari petition, which sought to overturn the Circuit Court ruling. DirecTV must now face two lawsuits from former technicians, who claim they were improperly classified as independent contractors. 

“This could apply really to any company of significant size doing business across the country if the decision is adopted and applied by other courts,” Julie Totten, who represents technology and other businesses as a partner at Orrick, told Bloomberg BNA last summer. “Any company that hires any other company as a vendor to perform some service for it is likely to be deemed a joint employer under the Fourth Circuit’s test.”

RELATED: Comcast installer LeCom improperly classified workers as indie contractors, suit says

The Supreme Court ruling comes as similar suits involving other pay TV companies are winding their way through the legal system. 

For example, former cable installers for Detroit-based LeCom Utility Contractors are pressing a multimillion-dollar class action suit alleging the company, which touts Comcast as a client, improperly classified them as independent contractors. 

Plaintiffs' attorney David Blanchard told Fierce in an interview conducted in 2016 that the company routinely recruits "unskilled" workers to its facilities, promising high wages and control of their work schedules. Workers fill out LeCom employment forms but are then directed to satellite offices that treat them as independent contractors. 

"It's a shell game of control, and [LeCom] ends up with people who aren't using their own tools, aren't using their own vans, and who are not in control of their destiny or success," Blanchard said. "There's no risk to Comcast, and there's no risk to the middle-man company."