American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc. v. Bonta, No. 20-55734 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
California’s AB 5 codified the “ABC test” for ascertaining whether workers are classified as employees or independent contractors. The ABC test permits businesses to classify workers as independent contractors only if they meet certain conditions. If a business cannot make that showing, its workers are deemed employees, and the business must comply with specific requirements and state and federal labor laws. AB5 and its amendments, California Labor Code 2778, establishes certain occupational exemptions. Freelance writers, photographers, and others received a narrower exemption than offered to certain other professionals. The Association sued, asserting that AB5 effectuates content-based preferences for certain kinds of speech, burdens journalism, and burdens the right to film matters of public interest.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Section 2778 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. Although the ABC classification may impose greater costs on hiring entities, which 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 court rejected an assertion that the law singled out the press as an institution and was not generally applicable. The legislature’s occupational distinctions were rationally related to a legitimate state purpose.