January 24, 2022

Uber ordered to pay £800k to blind passenger denied rides with her dog 14 times

Uber has been ordered to pay US $1.1million (£800,000) for a blind passenger after drivers refused to give her rides with he guide dog on 14 separate occasions, according to reports.

The ride-sharing service was found to have discriminated against San Francisco Bay Area resident Lisa Irving after drivers declined to pick her up while she had her guide dog, according to US media reports.

Ms Irving relies on her service dog, Bernie, to help her get around and had brought the claim against Uber in 2018 after she was repeatedly denied lifts.

She claimed her repeated bids to hail a ride with her dog were repeatedly knocked back, leaving her stranded late at night and had run late to work – which eventually contributed to her being sacked.

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Uber logo on United States flag
The Uber customer won after an arbitrator ruled the company could be held accountable for civil rights violations by its drivers

She also claimed she was verbally abused and intimidated by drivers, which had not stopped after she complained to Uber, her lawyers told news website Insider.

“She was either denied a ride altogether or harassed by Uber drivers not wanting to transport her with her guide dog,” the arbitrator’s ruling said, according to the site.

An independent arbitrator rejected Uber’s argument that it wasn’t liable for discrimination by drivers against customers because they are independent ‘contractors.’

Catherine Cabalo, one of Irving’s attorneys, said in a statement to media that under United States civil rights federal law protecting people with disabilities, the blind and visually impaired are entitled to take their service animals on transport.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) it is illegal for transport operators subject to the law it’s illegal to refuse to transport people travelling with their guide dogs.

An Uber car
Uber had told the arbitration its riders were independent contractors, arguing it could not be held accountable

She said ride-sharing services had a consistently poor record of handling customers with disabilities, claiming many customers had experienced open discrimination.

Uber fought the case, arguing that its drivers were independent contractors and therefore the company could not be held accountable for breaches of the ADA.

Uber’s policy for drivers prohibits discrimination in serving riders with disabilities, and has a team that handles service animal-related complaints.

Its sign-up contracts for new drivers asks them agree to transport service animals in compliance with local accessibility laws in their area.

According to Insider, the arbitrator disagreed with Uber and argued the company itself was liable for breaches of the ADA because of its “contractual supervision over its drivers and for its failure to prevent discrimination by properly training its workers.”

It is a landmark ruling against the company, as Uber has previously relied on its drivers’ contractor status to avoid responsibility for traditional employee entitlements like sick pay.

It is not the only gig economy company facing scrutiny over its employment practises.

This week, UK food delivery company Deliveroo’s London Stock Exchange debut flailed.

Its shares plunged as much as 30% after its initial public offering failed to attract strong interest after investors expressed concerns about allegations of driver exploitation.

An Uber spokesperson told the Mirror regarding the guide dog case: “We are proud Uber’s technology has helped people who are blind obtain rides and regret Ms Irving’s experience.

“Drivers using the Uber app are expected to serve riders with service animals and comply with accessibility and other laws, and we regularly provide education to drivers on that responsibility.

“Our dedicated team looks into each complaint and takes appropriate action.”

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