Settlement requires Uber to eradicate discrimination against blind riders who use service animals

Uber to stop discriminating against people who use service animals.
Uber to stop discriminating against people who use service animals.

Uber Technologies, Inc. will take new steps to ensure its drivers do not discriminate against customers who are blind or have visual disabilities that require the assistance of service animals, under a new settlement announced April 30.

“This settlement sets important precedent and shows that companies cannot ignore the rights of people with disabilities just because they use a new technology or a novel business model,” Larry Paradis, an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, which represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a news release. “We are pleased we could come to an agreement with Uber and look forward to working with the company to ensure a more accessible system.”

The National Federation of the Blind and three blind individuals sued the popular taxi-hailing service in September 2014, contending that its drivers frequently turn away drivers with guide dogs. Reflecting similar responses to criticism of the corporation’s lack of wheelchair accessible vehicles, Uber argued it was exempt from Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements, on the basis that its taxi services do not qualify as places of “public accommodation.”

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California rejected Uber’s argument in April 2015, noting that the ADA specifies “travel services” under its definition of places of public accommodation, allowing the lawsuit the proceed.

Under the agreement, the first of its type, Uber will instruct all of its drivers that they are obligated to serve riders with service animals. Drivers who knowingly deny a person a ride on this basis will be temporarily suspended from the platform. Drivers with multiple complaints will be permanently removed.

In addition, Uber will implement a comprehensive data tracking system on discrimination allegations and allow the NFB to deploy test riders, to ensure compliance with the agreement.

“Technology-enabled services such as Uber have tremendous potential to empower people with disabilities to live more independent lives,” attorney Michael Bien of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, which along with TRE Legal assisted in representing the plaintiffs, in the news release. “By ensuring reliable equal access for blind riders with service animals to Uber’s services, this agreement harnesses that potential.”

Paradis told the San Francisco Chronicle that Disability Rights Advocates is also working on a similar agreement with Lyft, Uber’s main competitor.