Just when you thought the networked transportation business could not get any worse, it did. Uber drivers are being accused in lawsuits of abusing and insulting disabled passengers.
The same lawsuits also accuse the companies of discriminating against the disabled and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, Time reported. The worst case comes from California, and it also accuses an Uber X driver of abusing a guide dog.
A federal lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind of California against Uber Technologies Inc. makes some troubling accusations against the app-based service, including:
- An UberX driver locked a guide dog belonging to a woman named Leena Dawes in the trunk. When Dawes realized the dog was locked in the trunk, the driver refused to stop until she reached her destination.
- UberX drivers refused to haul a blind woman on 12 separate occasions because she used a guide dog.
- UberX drivers in California refused to transport blind people on more than 30 occasions because of guide dogs.
- Some UberX drivers allegedly yelled and cursed at blind passengers because they had dogs.
- Uber charged blind customers cancellation fees after its drivers refused to haul them because of dogs.
- UberX failed to tell drivers that the ADA requires them to haul passengers with guide dogs.
- Uber ignored written complaints that customers made about drivers refusing to haul guide dogs.
- Uber refused to tell passengers who complained whether drivers had been disciplined or not.
- An Austin, Texas, resident named Demetrious Kourniaris was left standing out in the sun in temperatures of over 100 degrees because Uber drivers refused to transport him and his guide dog on two separate occasions. To add insult to injury, Uber charged Kourniaris cancellation fees on both occasions.
- Uber committed systematic civil rights violations against blind people.
Uber and the Federation are in negotiations to settle the complaint, probably to avoid more bad publicity, The Daily Beast reported. One reason why Uber is so scared of the Federation’s suit is that the litigation regular describes Uber as a “taxi service.” If the suit gets upheld in court, that could set a precedent that state and local governments trying to regulate Uber as a cab service could take advantage of.
Interestingly enough, the U.S. Department of Justice, or DOJ, has taken the Federation’s side in the case. The DOJ’s position is that legal precedent states the ADA covers all transportation companies, implying that Uber is actually a transportation service and not a technology company.
Uber Refused to Haul Woman in Wheelchair
Nor is it just the blind that are complaining of abuse. Boston resident Kristin Parisi, who uses a wheelchair, said an Uber driver called her an “invalid” and accused her of not being a Christian. She said another Uber driver simply said, “No, no, no,” and drove off when he saw her.
Other lawsuits on behalf of disabled Uber riders have been apparently been filed in other parts of the country. Some of the lawsuits make similar allegations against Lyft. If these allegations are true, more are probably on the way.
So what was Uber’s response to this? The company claims it is exempt from the ADA because it is a technology company and not a transportation provider, The Daily Beast’s Nina Strochilic reported. If Uber does not sell transportation, what does it sell?
To its credit, Uber is trying to address the problem by launching two services called UberWAV and UberAssist, Strochilic noted. UberWAV tries to connect the disabled with drivers with wheelchair ramp-equipped vans. UberAssist tries to provide drivers that are trained to assist the disabled. The problem is that these services are currently only available in limited areas.
This service could be too little too late. One has to wonder how a supposedly cutting edge service like Uber ignored something as well-known as a federal law. After all, the ADA has been on the books since 1990; perhaps Uber should have checked with its attorney before it started selling a service to the public.