The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled California’s strict worker classification law does not violate the free-speech rights of freelance writers and photographers, and state lawmakers were justified in distinguishing between occupations, Reuters reported.
The American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association claim that many freelancers make more money as independent contractors, and could be out of work altogether if they failed to secure jobs as full-time employees. Therefore, they claim, the law violated their right to free speech and equal protection.
The panel held that AB 5 regulates economic activity rather than speech. It does not, on its face, limit what someone can or cannot communicate. Nor does it restrict when, where, or how someone can speak. The statute is aimed at the employment relationship — a traditional sphere of state regulation.
The panel further acknowledged that although the ABC classification imposed by AB 5 may indeed impose greater costs on hiring entities, which in turn could mean fewer overall job opportunities for certain workers, such an indirect impact on speech does not necessarily rise to the level of a first amendment violation. The panel rejected plaintiffs’ assertion that the law singled out the press as an institution and was not generally applicable. Addressing the Equal Protection challenge, the panel held that the legislature’s occupational distinctions were rationally related to a legitimate state purpose.
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