Federal Appeals Court: Civil Rights Claims Against Uber Must Be Heard in Court

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Woman in wheelchair moving backwards up the ramp of a wheelchair-accessible van parked in a parking lot
Image: Woman in wheelchair moving backwards up the ramp of a wheelchair-accessible van parked in a parking lot (via Public Health Image Library)


March 22, 2021 – Pittsburgh, PA – Plaintiffs suing Uber for failing to provide transportation accessible to people with disabilities cannot be forced out of court and into arbitration, a federal court of appeals ruled on Wednesday. Read the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ opinion here.

The plaintiffs are people with disabilities who cannot use Uber’s on-demand transportation service in Pittsburgh because there are no wheelchair accessible vehicles available through Uber’s app. The lawsuit, filed in 2019, seeks modifications to Uber’s policies and practices to ensure that the company makes wheelchair-accessible vehicles readily available to Pittsburgh riders who need them. Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Uber’s argument that a provision in its terms of service could apply to people who had never agreed to it and prevent them from bringing discrimination claims against Uber in court.

“Uber and other ridesharing companies need to be held accountable for their discriminatory exclusion of people with disabilities,” said Disability Rights Advocates staff attorney Melissa Riess. “They are a multi-billion dollar company and they can and should be rolling out service that everyone can use. This ruling confirms that they cannot squirm out of court and their obligations to abide by civil rights law through the fine print in their terms of service. We are delighted that our clients will have their day in court.”

“Uber’s business model is in-part calculated to cut into the market share of bus companies and other public transportation companies that offer accessible transportation. While Uber and other ride sharing services offer a convenient transportation option, this case and similar cases are intended to ensure that that option does not exclude individuals with disabilities,” said Bruce Carlson, Partner at Carlson Lynch LLP.

The Court of Appeals’ ruling means that the plaintiffs can proceed in court and have their claims heard under federal civil rights law. The court rejected as “meritless” Uber’s novel argument that people who have not downloaded Uber’s app or signed up to its terms of use could be forced into arbitration, upholding the basic legal principle that someone cannot be bound by a contract they did not sign.

In addition to the case filed against Uber in Pittsburgh, DRA has filed cases against Uber in New York and California for their failure to serve riders who use wheelchairs. DRA has also filed a case against Uber’s competitor Lyft in California. These cases are critical to protecting the rights of wheelchair-users throughout the country. More background on the case is available here.

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About Disability Rights Advocates

With offices in New York and California, Disability Rights Advocates is the leading nonprofit disability rights legal center in the nation. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with all types of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to education, health care, employment, transportation, disaster preparedness planning, voting, and housing. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

About Carlson Lynch LLP

Carlson Lynch, LLP is a national class action firm with offices in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Philadelphia. Since 2010, Carlson Lynch has dedicated significant resources to litigation on behalf of individuals with disabilities and is committed to pursuing impactful cases that advance the interests of the disabled community on the largest possible scale. www.carlsonlynch.com


Stuart Seaborn, (510) 665-8644, sseaborn@dralegal.org

Michelle Iorio, (510) 665-8644, miorio@dralegal.org