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Uber has reportedly been ordered to pay $1.1 million in damages to a blind passenger after an independent arbitrator ruled that the company’s drivers discriminated against her after refusing her rides on 14 separate occasions.
Lisa Irving from San Francisco brought the claim against the ride-hailing giant in 2018 after “she was either denied a ride altogether or harassed by Uber drivers not wanting to transport her with her guide dog,” which she relies on. Irving alleged that drivers left her stranded at night and caused her to be late to work, which may have contributed to her being fired. Her lawyers alleged that their client suffered verbal abuse and intimidation, which did not stop after she brought her complaints to Uber.
Per Uber Help, service animals are permitted to accompany riders at all times. If the animal is a pet and not a service animal, then drivers may choose whether or not to allow the pet in their vehicle.
As reported by Fox 2 Detroit, one of Irving’s attorneys reportedly told the BBC in a statement: “Of all Americans who should be liberated by the rideshare revolution, the blind and visually impaired are among those who stand to benefit the most. However, the track record of major rideshare services has been spotty at best and openly discriminatory at worst.”
She further added, “The bottom line is that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a guide dog should be able to go anywhere that a blind person can go.” Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Therefore, the ADA prohibits businesses from denying transportation of a person with a guide dog.
However, Uber rejected Irving’s claims, insisting that its drivers are “expected to serve riders with service animals and comply with accessibility,” but the arbitrator found that was not the case. In fact, the investigation suggested that drivers were coached in ways to deny rides that would circumvent the ADA.
The arbitrator ruled that Uber was liable for violations of the ADA because of its “contractual supervision over its drivers and for its failure to prevent discrimination by properly training its drivers.” The arbitrator reportedly awarded Irving $324,000 in damages, with the rest ($805,313) going to legal costs, including attorney fees.
And yet, Uber, still, strongly disagreed with the ruling. The company reportedly said that its team looked into each complaint and took appropriate action.
Moreover, this isn’t the first time Uber has been sued for this exact issue. In 2014, Uber was reportedly sued for discriminating against blind people and their guide dogs, and agreed to change that as part of a $2.6 million settlement two years later. Irving’s 14 denied trips happened after Uber finalized its 2016 settlement.