The United States District Court for the Northern District of California on December 6, 2016, entered an Order granting final approval of a groundbreaking settlement between Uber and blind and low-vision persons who use service animals
The settlement resolves a lawsuit—National Federation of the Blind of California, et al. v. Uber Technologies, Inc.— brought to ensure that guide dog users have full and equal access to vehicles in the Uber network. This is the first nationwide class-action settlement of its kind against an app-based transportation network company. Plaintiffs are represented by Michael Bien, Ernest Galvan and Michael Nunez of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, Mary-Lee Smith and Julia Marks of Disability Rights Advocates, and Timothy Elder of TRE Legal. Larry Paradis, co-founder and executive director of Disability Rights Advocates, was lead counsel for the plaintiffs up until his death in 2016.
While the growth of Uber’s on-demand transportation services has the potential to be a boon to blind people, drivers using the Uber platform have denied rides to blind people who use guide dogs. Any such discrimination violates federal and state laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities. Under the settlement, Uber will work to end this discrimination and blind individuals will be able to use Uber without the threat of discrimination.
Uber has agreed to take affirmative steps to tell drivers about their obligations to transport riders who are disabled and use service animals. Uber will require that existing and new drivers expressly confirm that they understand their legal obligations to transport riders with guide dogs or other service animals. Uber will also implement stricter enforcement policies—Uber will remove a driver from the platform upon a single complaint if Uber finds that the driver knowingly denied a person with a disability a ride because the person was traveling with a service animal. In addition, if Uber receives complaints that a driver denied a person a ride because of a service animal on more than one occasion, the driver will permanently be removed from the Uber platform regardless of the driver’s intent.
Uber will also enhance its response system for complaints related to discrimination against guide-dog users, and will track detailed data on all allegations of such discrimination. Additionally, the National Federation of the Blind and its California affiliate will deploy testers over a multi-year period to evaluate Uber’s compliance with the settlement.
In addition to granting final approval of the settlement, the court also approved the plaintiffs’ request for an award of attorney’s fees and expenses for work performed in the litigation. The court approved the full amount of the fees, and awarded a civil rights fee enhancement, increase the fee award by 50% due to the novel and complex issues presented by the case, and the significant risk that plaintiffs’ counsel took in pursuing the litigation. The court found that “a multiplier of 1.5 is appropriate to full award plaintiffs for the fair market value of their work in taking on this case.”
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