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In a hearing about a lawsuit against the ride-hailing giant by an Asian driver claiming the star-based ratings system puts non-white drivers at risk of termination, a federal judge reportedly agreed and said “the inference that Uber’s practice is racially discriminatory is … strong.” Thomas Liu, the terminated driver, is seeking class-action status to bring into the lawsuit “hundreds, if not thousands” of non-white former drivers his suit claims were fired because of the rating system.
The suit filed in October reportedly alleges: “Uber has long known that relying on a system that depends on passenger evaluation of drivers is discriminatory, as Uber is aware that passengers frequently discriminate against Uber drivers.” Liu’s suit also claims that to keep their jobs, Uber drivers must maintain a minimum average rating that “has frequently been set very high, even close to a perfect score.” Liu was terminated because his rating fell below 4.6 stars out of five.
According to the legal-affairs website Law360, San Francisco U.S. District Court Judge said in the hearing that a body of research indicates that when online marketplaces tie employment to consumers’ ratings, discriminatory terminations may result.
Per the suit, Lui is from San Diego and has a slight accent, and claims that while driving for Uber until he was “deactivated” in Oct. 2015, he noticed some passengers appeared hostile to him because of his race. “For example, he noticed riders cancelling ride requests after he had already accepted the ride and the rider was able to view his picture,” the suit reportedly alleges. “He also experienced riders asking where he was from in an unfriendly way.”
The suit claims Uber had earlier publicly acknowledged that it knew its customers’ actions regarding drivers could be affected by racial bias, namely over tipping. “In the past, before it allowed tipping on the app, Uber tried to justify its refusal to add a method for passengers to tip drivers through the app based upon its assertion that passengers discriminate against racial minorities, and Uber professed concern that allowing tipping would therefore discriminate against minority drivers in the wages they would receive,” the suit reportedly claims.
In a court filing, Uber reportedly explained: “Ratings for any given ride can be affected by numerous issues that have nothing to do with the race of – or possibly even the service provided by – the driver.” The company also said Liu was speculating rather than offering facts. “And even if Liu could offer enough facts to make his disparate impact claims plausible, he has nothing more than conjecture on top of conjecture to claim that Uber intentionally discriminated against non-white drivers by using its neutral rating system,” the filing continued.
Liu is seeking unspecified damages for himself and other allegedly affected drivers, plus a court order banning Uber from using its star-based ratings system to terminate drivers.
Uber is no stranger to lawsuits and controversies regarding their treatment of its drivers. Most recently, the company came under fire for charging astronomical fares, none of which is going to the actual drivers. This comes amid a driver shortage throughout the entire state and rolling back some driver privileges it had introduced last year after their big Prop. 22 win.