In a previous post, we highlighted our suit that was filed against Uber in 2014. The Complaint was filed in federal court after the parties were unable to satisfactorily resolve concerns about how Uber handled drivers who refused to transport passengers with service animals. Uber moved to dismiss the claims, essentially arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had agreed to arbitration in Uber’s terms and conditions and, in any event, Uber was not covered by the ADA or similar California state laws.
The Department of Justice then filed a Statement of Interest in support of the Plaintiffs.
After a hearing, Judge Nathanael Cousins of the Northern District of California denied Uber’s motion. The court’s opinion, 103 F.Supp.3d 1073, addresses several issues of first impression and permitted the claims to move forward to trial.
Class Action Settlement
After a mediation, discovery practice and extensive negotiations, the parties were able to reach an agreement with Uber. A Press Release summarizes the agreement terms. But the text of the full proposed Settlement Agreement is the best source to review all the changes that Uber has committed to make. The settlement is a nation-wide resolution. This means that the changes Uber is making will apply throughout the United States and the settlement will be applicable to all riders who travel with service animals anywhere within the United States. The National Federation of the Blind will be added as a party to ensure that the interests of all blind people across the United States are fully represented in the process. Here is a list of the proposed changes to Uber’s policies and practices for those who don’t have time to review the full settlement agreement:
- Before Drivers are given access to the Driver App, they must expressly acknowledge that they have read and understood Uber’s new Service Animal Policy, which will state that Drivers have a legal obligation to provide service to Riders with Service Animals anywhere in the United States with no exceptions, including but not limited to for reasons related to allergies or religious objections.
- Through a multi-page interactive pop-up in the mobile app for drivers, all new and existing drivers must expressly confirm that they understand their obligation to transport passengers with service animals and Uber’s termination policy if they refuse. (See Addendum 1 to the Settlement Agreement for details about how the pop-up will work).
- Uber must change its technology services agreement with drivers to clarify the amended termination policy for drivers who refuse to transport service animals.
- Uber will adopt a new enforcement practice in which drivers who intentionally refuse a service animal will be immediately terminated.
- Uber will also adopt a new enforcement practice in which drivers who are alleged to have refused service on more than one incident will be permanently terminated from the platform without regard to their intent as long as the first and second complaints are plausible. This policy is designed to address situations where Uber cannot determine for sure that the service denials are deliberate violations of the service animal policy.
- Uber will train customer support staff on how to identify situations in which the driver should be immediately terminated for an intentional refusal.
- Uber will send quarterly email reminders to drivers with photographs of blind individuals with guide dogs to remind drivers of how to readily identify service animals and the driver’s obligation to accept those riders.
- The lawyers for the class will have an opportunity to review and propose revisions on the quarterly email reminders before they are sent.
- Uber will improve its complaint processing procedures so that it is easier for blind passengers to submit complaints via a dedicated link in the website and mobile app specifically for reporting complaints about service animal discrimination.
- Complaints about service animals will be escalated from general customer support to an Access Complaint Team that has special training on Uber’s service animal policy.
- Uber will attempt in good faith to respond to each complaint of a service animal issue within one week of the complaint submission and notify the rider about the outcome, including whether Uber has terminated its contractual relationship with the driver or, if not, whether Uber will terminate the driver if a second plausible complaint is submitted.
- Uber will refund any trip cancellation fees or any other charges in which the driver denied service due to the presence of a service animal.
- Uber will provide a Rider an account credit of $25 for each instance a driver is terminated as the result of a service animal complaint.
- Uber will no longer automatically block future matches between the rider with a service animal and a driver who refused service to that rider unless the rider specifically asks to not be matched with that same driver again.
- Uber will record comprehensive data on service animal complaints and actions taken to driver accounts and report that data to the lawyers for the class during the several years that the settlement is active.
- Uber will pay the National Federation of the Blind to subsidize the cost of a testing program in which testers verify the effectiveness of the settlement terms.
- Uber will agree to negotiate further changes with the lawyers for the class and submit to a third-party monitor if additional policy changes prove necessary during the term of the settlement.
The Class Settlement Approval Process
The Court had granted preliminary approval to the settlement on July 13, 2016 and had set a Final Fairness Hearing for November 10, 2016, which was rescheduled to December 1, 2016. The court gave final written approval to the settlement on December 6, 2016. Various deadlines are now triggered for Uber to take certain steps before early 2017. The bottom line though is that blind riders may not notice the benefits of the changes in the settlement until the end of the first quarter of 2017 as the policy changes take hold. There is no excuse though for continued discrimination by drivers. Riders who experience problems should report those issues to our legal team.
Questions and Concerns
Timothy Elder of TRE Legal, Julia Marks of Disability Rights Advocates, and Michael Bien and Michael Nunez of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld are the lawyers for the class. Any questions, concerns or comments about the settlement can be directed their way. For TRE Legal, you can reach us through our contact page.
What Is the Take Away?
We believe this proposed settlement will make a huge difference for riders who travel with service animals. Ridesharing has the potential to be a game-changer for blind and disabled people.
Uber has revolutionized the transportation industry. It offers an amazing tool that has the potential to connect blind and disabled people with affordable, reliable and convenient transportation. With the litigation out of the way, Uber, the National Federation of the Blind and the numerous blind travelers who use service animals will be able to focus on collaborating to improve the ridesharing transportation phenomenon for blind people. Integration into education, employment, commerce and social activity all hinge upon a need for reliable transportation. With this ground-breaking settlement, blind and disabled people are now one mile closer on the road to getting where they want to go and living the full and equal life they want to live. Uber on!