Uber is being accused of its drivers denying rides to a Texas woman with cerebral palsy on “approximately 25 separate occasions” across 2016 and 2017, according to a new lawsuit filed today. The woman claims that drivers repeatedly canceled rides because she requires the use of a service dog. The complaint, filed in Northern California District Court, accuses Uber of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Texas Human Resources Code, and the plaintiff is seeking damages for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
The plaintiff, D’Edra Steele, details a number of instances in which she was allegedly denied service by Uber drivers in the lawsuit. Many of the claims revolve around Uber drivers refusing her service and canceling rides only after finding out that she uses a service dog. Steele, the lawsuit states, relies on a service dog named Goodee in order to walk and maintain her balance.
Uber drivers used excuses such as allergies, lack of protective seat covering, or simply not wanting to clean up dog hair as reasons for canceling rides, Steele alleges in the complaint. In certain occasions these cancelations left Steele stranded without a ride to or from grocery stores, and in one situation, made her late to her own family’s Thanksgiving celebration.
Uber has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination in its community guidelines, but it’s unclear if any drivers were suspended
Uber says in its community guidelines that it has a “zero tolerance policy” for discrimination “of any kind” by drivers or riders. Uber’s accessibility policy is also clear that drivers aren’t allowed to deny rides because of service animals in any circumstances. “Driver-partners have a legal obligation to provide service to riders with service animals,” the service animal section reads. “A driver-partner CANNOT lawfully deny service to riders with service animals because of allergies, religious objections, or a generalized fear of animals.”
Steele says she was denied rides even while Goodee was properly and visibly labeled as a service dog, according to the complaint, though Uber’s website also says that “there is no requirement that a service animal wear a tag, be registered, or display any kind of proof that it is a service animal.”
It’s unclear based on the information presented in the lawsuit if any drivers were reprimanded as result of Steele’s complaints. A representative for Uber declined to comment on the lawsuit.
On a number of occasions, according to the lawsuit, Steele reported these cancellations to Uber’s official customer support and critical response help lines. While she was told a few times that the company was investigating her claims, more often than not she says she was met with the same response: a $5 credit, and a guarantee that she wouldn’t be paired with the same driver again. Steele says she also filed complaints about specific incidents with the Department of Justice.
Steele’s lawsuit highlights a tension that’s been brewing around the country as ride-sharing and ride-hailing services supplement — and in some places, supplant — public transportation. Government-run transit is inherently obligated to be accessible to people with handicaps or disabilities, but it’s up to private transportation companies like Uber that run their own services to ensure that their drivers comply with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act, and ultimately hold drivers accountable if they are in violation.
“We also want to help increase the transportation options for riders with disabilities,” Uber writes in its community guidelines. “We expect drivers using the Uber app to comply with all relevant state, federal and local laws governing the transportation of riders with disabilities, including transporting service animals.”