VICTORY FOR BLIND RIDERS IN LANDMARK CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT AGAINST UBER; CASE ADVANCES
SAN FRANCISCO, CA April 21, 2015 – Delivering an important preliminary victory for people with disabilities in a landmark civil rights case against the popular car service Uber, a federal court ruled that the California affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind and blind UberX riders may proceed in their lawsuit against Uber for discrimination against passengers with service animals.
The lawsuit, filed in September, was brought by the National Federation of the Blind of California and guide dog users Michael Hingson, Michael Kelly, and Michael Pedersen against Uber Technologies, Inc., and its subsidiaries Rasier, LLC and Rasier-CA, LLC (collectively “Uber”) after numerous complaints. Plaintiffs are represented in the lawsuit by attorneys with the Berkeley non-profit legal center Disability Rights Advocates and TRE Legal Practice. Plaintiffs brought the suit against Uber to end the discrimination that guide dog users frequently experience when trying to use UberX transportation, including outright denial of service by drivers and repeated and unexplained ride cancellations. Plaintiffs alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the California Disabled Persons Act. Uber refused to negotiate a resolution that would have avoided a lawsuit.
The court heard arguments on Uber’s motion to dismiss in NFB of California v. Uber on March 3. In a 14-page opinion, issued Friday evening, United States Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins, of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, roundly rejected Uber’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In rejecting Uber’s arguments, the court cited citizens’ “broad” rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which the court held may apply to Uber, despite the fact that the drivers use their own personal vehicles and Uber’s claim that it merely connects those drivers and potential riders. The court further held that the National Federation of the Blind of California has “standing” to sue, despite the fact that some of its members had signed binding arbitration agreements with Uber.
Drivers whom Uber dispatches to transport blind customers have refused to transport blind customers with service animals on many occasions. Many of these blind individuals have been denied rides multiple times, sometimes repeatedly within a single attempt to use the service. Others have had to argue with, educate, and convince Uber’s under-trained drivers. Additionally, blind customers have been charged cancellation fees for discriminatory ride denials. Guide dog users cannot rely on Uber in the way that sighted customers can, but instead must deal with unpredictability, delay, embarrassment, and frustration.
Among numerous similar allegations is that Mr. Pedersen, one of the named plaintiffs, planned to take an Uber vehicle to catch his work shuttle. When the car arrived, Mr. Pedersen knocked on the window of the vehicle and asked, “Uber?” The UberX driver said, “yes, but I don’t take dogs.” Mr. Pedersen explained that his dog was a service animal and the UberX driver was required to transport him. The UberX driver replied, “I don’t care. It’s not my problem.” The UberX driver then drove away and canceled the trip request.
Uber has failed to tell customers who suffer discrimination whether Uber has fully investigated their complaints, disciplined drivers, taken meaningful steps to prevent future discrimination, and improved driver education.
“Our members should not have to tolerate repeated denials of rides or endure outright rudeness by drivers who should know their legal obligations,” said Mary Willows, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California.
Mr. Pedersen said, “Uber is a fantastic service – in theory. I am relieved that the judge is going to give us our day in court to show just how frustrating and inappropriate many of these encounters with Uber drivers have been for me and for other people who use service animals.”
Plaintiffs are represented in this matter by Larry Paradis, Aaron B. Zisser, and Julia Marks of Disability Rights Advocates and Timothy Elder of the Fremont firm TRE Legal Practice. Disability Rights Advocates Executive Director Larry Paradis explained, “We are gratified that the court has recognized that Uber and, implicitly, other technology companies like it, are subject to the broad protections of the ADA and state laws and can be required to provide access to all customers on an equal basis, including those with a disability.”
The case is National Federation of the Blind of California, et al. v. Uber Technologies Inc., et al., Case No. 3:14-cv-4086 (N.D. Cal.).
About the California Affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind:
The NFB of California (NFBC) is the State affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. The NFBC knows that blindness does not define you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. For more information, visit http://sixdots.org/.
About Disability Rights Advocates:
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation. With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. To advance that mission, DRA regularly advocates for greater access to transportation services and modern technologies. DRA recently negotiated a landmark settlement that will dramatically improve access to taxis in New York for people with mobility disabilities. DRA has also negotiated access improvements to several types of popular modern technologies, including the website Target.com in National Federation of the Blind v. Target, Corp. and Redbox touchscreen video rental kiosks in Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired et al. v. Redbox Automated Retail, LLC et al. For more information, visit dralegal.org.
About TRE Legal:
Founded by Timothy Elder, TRE Legal is a civil rights law firm fighting discrimination and specializing in the rights of the blind and other disabled people to access employment, education, government programs, public accommodations, digital information, and all other aspects of modern society. TRE Legal has helped negotiate collaboration agreements between the blindness community and several mobile app developers to make their respective technologies independently accessible to the blind. For more information, visit www.trelegal.com.