In December of 2016 a federal court in San Francisco entered an order granting final approval of a groundbreaking settlement between Uber and blind and low-vision persons who use service animals. See Blind Service Animal Users Secure Right to Access Uber. The settlement resolved the lawsuit which had been brought to ensure that guide dog users have full and equal access to vehicles in the Uber network. Plaintiffs were represented by RBGG, Disability Rights Advocates, and Timothy Elder of TRE Legal.
On June 10,2020 plaintiffs filed a motion in federal court to extend the original settlement by 18 months and require that Uber implement additional policies and procedures to ensure that drivers are properly educated and that drivers follow the rules requiring that low vision riders with service animals have full and equal access. According to the motion, “The base set of policies and procedures implemented has not resulted in a material decrease in reports of service animal discrimination. . . .Uber’s ongoing resistance to adopting any policies or procedures to strengthen protections for the class and ensure that the settlement is achieving its stated goal of reducing service animal discrimination calls into question its commitment to the parties’ supposedly ‘mutual goal’ of providing full and equal access to Uber’s service to individuals with service animals.”
Selected Media Coverage
Uber Still Has Work To Do After ’16 ADA Deal, Blind Riders Say, Law360, June 11, 2020
The 2016 settlement resolved claims that some of Uber’s drivers violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing rides to blind customers or mistreating their service animals.
Under the deal, Uber promised to inform drivers about their obligations to provide service to riders who are blind and depend on a service animal and to remove any driver from its platform if it determines the driver has knowingly refused service because of a blind customer’s reliance on a service animal. Uber also vowed to pay the National Federation of the Blind $225,000.
But the NFB, its California affiliate and guide dog user Michael Hingson said in Wednesday’s motion that since the settlement term began in 2017, Uber has received more than 21,000 complaints of service animal-related discrimination. Meanwhile, attorneys for the class have fielded a “steady stream of complaints” from class members who say they’ve still run into trouble trying to ride with their service animals, according to the motion.
They asked the court to extend the three-year settlement by 18 months and order Uber to adopt additional policies and practices intended to improve how the company educates its drivers and enforces its rules.
“The base set of policies and procedures implemented has not resulted in a material decrease in reports of service animal discrimination,” they said.
Early on, the plaintiffs raised concerns about the effectiveness of the settlement and proposed additional policies and practices, but Uber has continually rejected those proposals, according to the motion.
“Uber’s ongoing resistance to adopting any policies or procedures to strengthen protections for the class and ensure that the settlement is achieving its stated goal of reducing service animal discrimination calls into question its commitment to the parties’ supposedly ‘mutual goal’ of providing full and equal access to Uber’s service to individuals with service animals,” they said.
In particular, the plaintiffs say they’ve questioned how Uber communicates the service animal policy to its drivers and whether it does so in a manner that is understandable to them. They asked the court to order Uber to translate its driver educational materials into languages other than English that are commonly spoken by drivers and make those documents widely available.
The plaintiffs also want Uber to allow them to observe how the company trains customer support staff to identify and respond to those complaints, and they want copies of written training materials.
“Uber has not submitted evidence demonstrating it is in substantial compliance with the enforcement procedures set out in the settlement,” they said.
The plaintiffs hit Uber with the proposed class action in 2014, claiming that although the ride-hailing company offers “highly cost-effective and widely available” services for sighted customers, it discriminates against blind customers who use service animals.
They said they had identified more than 30 instances of Uber drivers refusing to transport blind customers after initially agreeing to do so, including denying rides to one blind woman on 12 separate occasions, according to the complaint. And drivers have also charged blind riders cancellation fees or abandoned them in inclement weather because of their guide dogs, the plaintiffs said.
On top of that, some Uber drivers would “seriously manhandle” service animals or harass blind customers, according to the suit. In one instance, a driver forced a customer’s guide dog into the trunk of a sedan before driving, the plaintiffs alleged.
The settlement garnered preliminary approval in April 2016 and was given the final stamp of approval in December of that year.