A New Gig for Unconscionability — Equity and Human Dignity in Uber Technologies v. Heller [2020]



In Uber Technologies Inc. v. Heller, the Canadian Supreme Court affirmed the capacity of the doctrine of unconscionability to protect people working in the ‘gig economy’ from oppressive implications of non-negotiable standard form contracts tendered by drastically more powerful business entities. On the basis of unconscionability, the Court rejected Uber’s attempt to enforce a clause in their non-negotiable standard form contract that would preclude its drivers from invoking employment law rights in a domestic court, having stipulated dispute resolution through arbitration in a foreign jurisdiction at upfront and unaffordable expense to the driver. This case note critically elucidateshow the Court’s decision advances standards of human dignity for working people through an equitable reading of the relevant statute, and subsequently applying the characteristic elasticity of the Equitable doctrine of unconscionability in addressing changing social and economic circumstances and drastic power imbalances between parties.

Author Biography

Raúl Madden, University of Kent

PhD student and GTA at University of Kent.



A. Articles, Books and Reports

Atiyah, PS, Essays on Contract (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Benson, Peter, Justice in Transactions: A Theory of Contract Law (Harvard University Press, 2019)

Bigwood, Rick, ‘Antipodean Reflections on the Canadian Unconscionability Doctrine’ (2005) 84 Canadian Bar Review 173

Bigwood, Rick, ‘Kakavas v Crown Melbourne Ltd – Still Curbing Unconscionability: Kakavas in the High Court of Australia’ (2013) 37 Melbourne University Law Review 463

Edelman, James, ‘The Equity of the Statute’ in Dennis Klimchuck, Irit Samet, and Henry E. Smith (eds), Philosophical foundations of the Law of Equity (Oxford University Press 2020)

Gardner, Jodi, ‘Being Conscious of Unconscionability in Modern Times: Heller v Uber Technologies’ (2021) Modern Law Review (forthcoming)

Jenneau, Benoit, ‘Equity in French Private and Public Law’ in R.A. Newman (ed), Equity in the World’s Legal Systems: A Comparative Study (Etablissement Emile Bruylant, 1973)

Kant, Immanuel, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, tr Mary Gregor and Jens Timmermann (eds) (Cambridge University Press, 2nd edn, 2012)

Kant, Immanuel, The Metaphysics of Morals, ed Lara Denis, tr Mary Gregor (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

Kant, Immanuel, The Metaphysics of Morals, tr Mary Gregor, (Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Luban, David, Human Dignity and Legal Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Luban, David, ‘The Inevitability of Conscience: A Response to My Critics’ (2008) 93 Cornell Law Review 1437

Meshel, Tamar, ‘International commercial arbitration in Canada after Uber Technologies v Heller’ (2021) Arbitration International, (forthcoming)

McCamus, John D, The Law of Contract (2nd ed, Irwin Law, 2012)

McInnes, Mitchell, The Canadian Law of Unjust Enrichment and Restitution (LexisNexis, 2014)

McInnes, Mitchell, ‘Uber and Unconscionability in the Supreme Court of Canada’ (2021) 137 Law Quarterly Review 30

Neal, Mary, ‘Respect for Human Dignity as “Substantive Basic Norm”’ (2014) 10 International Journal of Law in Context 26

Rotman, Leonard I, ‘The ‘Fusion’ of Law and Equity?: A Canadian Perspective on the Substantive, Jurisdictional, or Non-Fusion of Legal and Equitable Matters’ (2016) 2 Canadian Journal of Contemporary and Comparative Law 497.

Riley, Stephen, Human Dignity and Law: Legal and Philosophical Investigations (Routledge, 2018)

Samet, Irit, Equity: Conscience Goes to Market (Oxford University Press, 2018)

Schiller, Friedrich, Würde des Menschen (Musenalmanach, 1797),

Shell, Susan Meld, ‘Kant on Human Dignity’, in Robert Kraynak and Glenn Tinder (eds), In Defense of Human Dignity: Essays for Our Times (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003)

Waldron, Jeremy, ‘Vagueness and the Guidance of Action’ in Andrei Marmor and Scott Soames (eds) Philosophical Foundations of Language in the Law (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Waldron, Jeremy, ‘Inhuman and Degrading Treatment: The Words Themselves’ (2010) 23 Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence 269

Gary Watt, Equity Stirring (Hart Publishing, 2009)

B. Cases

Adani Abbot Point Terminal Pty Ltd v Lake Vermont Resources Pty Ltd [2020] QSC 260

Alec Lobb (Garages) Ltd. v. Total Oil (Great Britain) Ltd., [1985] 1 W.L.R. 173

Transcript of Proceedings, Amita Gupta v Portier Pacific Pty Ltd (Federal Court of Australia, No. NSD 566 of 2020, Bromberg, Rangiah, and White JJ, 27 November 2020).

Aslam v Uber BV [2016] EW Misc B68 (Et); [2017] IRLR 18

Ayres v. Hazelgrove, Q.B. England, February 9, 1984

Janet Boustany v. George Pigott Co (Antigua and Barbuda), [1993] UKPC 17

Bropho v Western Australia (1990) 171 CLR 1

Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd. v. Australia Ltd. v. Amadio, [1983] HCA 14, 151 C.L.R. 447

Consistent Group v Kalwak [2007] UKEAT 0535; [2007] IRLR 560

Cresswell v Potter [1978] 1 WLR 255

Dell Computer Corp. v. Union des consommateurs, [2007] 2 S.C.R. 801

Douez v. Facebook Inc., [2017] 1 S.C.R. 751

Heller v. Uber Technologies Inc. 2018 ONSC 718, 421 D.L.R. (4th) 343

Heller v. Uber Technologies Inc. 2019 ONCA 1, 430 D.L.R. (4th) 410

Hunter Engineering Co v. Syncrude Canada Ltd., [1989] 1 SCR 462

Kakavas v Crown Melbourne Ltd (2013) 250 CLR 392,

Norberg v. Wynrib, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 226

R (on application of The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain) v Central Arbitration Committee & Roofoods Limited [2018] EWHC 3342 (Admin)

Scott v Avery (1856) 5 HLC 811, 10 ER 1121

Seidel v. TELUS Communications Inc., [2011] 1 S.C.R. 531

Uber BV v Aslam [2018] EWCA Civ 2748

Uber BV v Aslam [2021] UKSC 5

Uber Technologies Inc. v. Heller 2020 SCC 16

C. Legislation and Arbitration Rules

Arbitration Act, 1991, S.O. 1991

Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990

International Commercial Arbitration Act, 2017, S.O. 2017

Employment Standards Act, 2000, S.O. 2000

ICC Rules of Arbitration, International Chamber of Commerce (at 1 March 2017)

D. Treaties

UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, U.N. Doc. A/40/17, Ann. I, June 21, 1985

E. Other

Elliot, Larry, ‘TUC wants clampdown on ‘poverty pay’ in gig economy jobs’ The Guardian (online, 28 September 2018) <https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/sep/28/tuc-wants-clampdown-on-poverty-pay-in-gig-economy-jobs>

Neate, Rupert, ‘Ten billionaires Reap $400bn boost to wealth during pandemic’ The Guardian (online, 19 December 2020) <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/dec/19/ten-billionaires-reap-400bn-boost-to-wealth-during-pandemic>

Oxfam America, Pandemic Profits Exposed: A COVID-19 Pandemic Profits Tax as one essential tool to reverse inequalities and rebuild better post-pandemic (Media briefing, July 2020)

Schor, Juliet, ‘How the Gig Economy Promotes Inequality’ Milken Institute Review (online, 18 September 2018) <https://www.milkenreview.org/articles/how-the-gig-economy-promotes-inequality>

Sorry to Bother You (Significant Productions, 2018)

Sorry We Missed You (Sixteen Films, 2019)

Transport Workers’ Union, ‘Uber Backflips on Rider Gag Order Prompting Fresh Calls For a Tribunal to Set Standards’ (Press release, 31 January 2021)

Transport Workers’ Union, ‘Federal Court Savages Uber Over Sham Business Model’ (Press release, 30 December 2020)

Trinder, Matt, ‘Deliveroo collective bargaining case reaches Court of Appeal’, Morning Star (online, 2 February 2010) <https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/deliveroo-collective-bargaining-case-reaches-court-of-appeal>

Brandie Weikle ‘What the COVID-19 employment crisis tells us about the future of work’ CBC (online, 29 May 2020) <https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/covid-19-employment-crisis-recovery-employment-in-2030-1.5588285>

The World Bank, ‘Covid-19 to Add as Many as 150 Million Extreme Poor by 2021’ (Press release, October 2020)

UberEATS, ‘Delivery Person Agreement’ (Contract) <https://www.twu.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/AU_Delivery_Person_agreement_Jan_2021.pdf>.

Analysis, ‘Uber is Lobbying Canadian Provinces to Rewrite Labour Laws and Create a New ‘Underclass of Workers’, PressProgress (16 March 2021) <https://pressprogress.ca/uber-is-lobbying-canadian-provinces-to-rewrite-labour-laws-and-create-a-new-underclass-of-workers/>.

‘Canada lost nearly 2 million jobs in April amid COVID-19 crisis: Statistics Canada’, CBC (online, 8 May 2020) <https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/canada-jobs-april-1.5561001>

‘U.S. economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April’, CBC (online, 8 May 2020) <https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/united-states-coronavirus-jobs-unemployment-april-1.5561026>