US sues Uber, claiming it discriminates against people with disabilities

SAN FRANCISCO – The Justice Department sued Uber on Wednesday, accusing the company of discriminating against passengers with disabilities by charging them fees when they needed more time to get into transport vehicles.

The lawsuit stems from a pricing policy instituted by Uber in 2016 to compensate drivers who waited more than two minutes for a passenger to arrive. Previously, the company did not pay drivers for their time before a trip began, frustrating those who sometimes had to wait long periods for passengers.

But the Justice Department said Uber did not adjust wait time charges for people with disabilities, violating the Americans With Disabilities Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination by private transportation companies. . A passenger may need time to disassemble a wheelchair or walker and put it back in the car, or a blind passenger may need more time to walk to the car, the Justice Department said. Yet even when Uber knew someone needed extra time due to a disability, the company charged a wait charge after two minutes, the lawsuit said.

“Uber and other companies that provide transportation services must ensure equal access to all people, including people with disabilities,” said Kristen Clarke, deputy attorney general of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, in a statement.

Uber said on Wednesday it had been in discussions with the Justice Department over its wait time policies, which were intended only for passengers who made drivers wait and not passengers who needed more time. to get into the car. The company said it reimbursed disabled passengers who alerted the company that they had been charged. Last week, it also updated its policy to automatically remove wait time charges for passengers who reported being disabled.

Matt Kallman, spokesperson for Uber, said in a statement that the trial was “surprising and disappointing.” He added, “We fundamentally disagree that our policies violate the ADA and will continue to improve our products to support the ability of everyone to move easily in their communities. “

The Justice Department had previously investigated Lyft for allowing its drivers to deny travel to passengers in wheelchairs or walkers. Lyft settled the allegations last year and agreed to revise its wheelchair policies, pay damages of $ 4,000 to $ 30,000 to four passengers and pay a civil fine of $ 40,000.

The Justice Department previously screened Uber for data breaches in 2014 and 2016. Last year, the agency accused a former Uber executive of trying to cover up the 2016 hack from federal investigators.

The new lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, seeks a court order to prevent Uber from discriminating against people with disabilities. He’s also asking the court to demand Uber change its policy on wait times for people with disabilities, train its employees and drivers on the Americans With Disabilities Act, pay damages to customers affected by wait times policy and pay a civil penalty.


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