June 22, 2015 - There has been a recent wave of complaints aimed at the popular driving service, Uber (and similar services). In response, there could be a new ruling that raises the bar for accountability amongst such driving services. In fact, the ruling could raise the bar for all tech companies; not just those related to ride-hailing services.
A federal judge in San Francisco allowed the National Federation of the Blind of California (NFB) to file suit claiming that Uber actively discriminates against visually impaired guide-dog users. Allegations indicate that Uber drivers have refused to provide rides for passengers who have service animals in use, which is in violation of ADA laws. The suit claims that drivers have also denied transport to blind individuals without service dogs. In addition, other instances are cited in which the blind individual and their service dog were allowed to utilize the ride service, but the service animals were allegedly mistreated during the drive time. The original civil complaint cites over 30 instances of discriminatory action towards blind people and/or their service animals.
One instance of harassment involved the Uber driver forcing the guide dog of a blind woman named Leena Dawes into the trunk of the sedan before transporting Ms. Dawes. When she realized where the Uber driver had placed her dog, she asked repeatedly if they could pull over so she could retrieve her dog from the trunk, but the Uber driver denied her requests. This is just one of the many instances noted in the suit.
Uber requested the case against them be dismissed on the basis that due to contracts in place, users are required to take complaints/disputes to arbitration and argue as individuals not in the form of a class action lawsuit. They also argued that due to their unique service, they can’t be classified as “public accommodation” and therefore shouldn’t be held liable for ADA requirements.
This reasoning was tossed out by a federal judge who stated that the NDF could more forward with the suit on behalf of those members who have not yet signed the mentioned Uber contracts. This refers to class action lawsuit members who have not necessarily used the Uber service yet.
Other related legal news includes:
- Uber came under fire last March when their app was rendered useless to blind users after a software bug. They failed to fix it for a number of months.
- An ongoing suit in Texas argues the question of whether or not Uber offers sufficient access for users in wheelchairs.
- Lyft was sued as well, but settled out of court.
- Leap, the San Francisco private bus start up with a $6 fare, found themselves the focus of a suit due to the fact that they don’t provide wheelchair access.
Services such as Lyft, Uber and Leap are important as they make integration more convenient and accessible (through low pricing) for vision-impaired individuals. Most new smartphones’ built-in screen reading functionality makes the app based ride services an excellent option that allows for greater independence when traveling.
Many are hoping that the San Francisco ruling will set a precedent that will leave new, app-based services such as Lyft and Uber, etc. accountable to the same civil rights laws as other businesses and ride services.