IN IMPORTANT OPINION FOR DISABILITY ACCESS AND INCLUSION, FEDERAL JUDGE RULES THAT UBER IS SUBJECT TO ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWS
In a critical ruling for individuals with disabilities, a federal judge on Monday March 15th, denied the ride-share service Uber's motion to dismiss a case that claims it discriminates against disabled individuals.
Local accessibility advocates like Aaron Baier, Executive Director of Access to Independence in Cortland, say the implications of the case could be far-reaching and result in individuals with disabilities nationwide being able to enjoy the same use of ride hailing applications like Uber and Lyft, that non-disabled people do.
United States District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson denied Uber’s motion to dismiss in the case Equal Rights Center v. Uber Technologies, Inc., et al.
The ruling finds that contrary to Uber's claims, the ride-hailing application is in fact covered by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the DC Human Rights Act (DCHRA). Judge Jackson also found that the Equal Rights Center (ERC) has standing to bring the complaint’s ADA and DCHRA discrimination claims on behalf of its members.
The ERC filed the lawsuit in 2017 against Uber Technologies Inc. The suit alleges that Uber discriminates against disabled individuals in Washington DC who use non-foldable wheelchairs, saying the application's wheelchair-accessible service is far more costly and less reliable than the non-wheelchair service. The lawsuit was based in part on an investigation that revealed Uber imposed higher fares and longer wait time on wheelchair users than non-wheelchair users.
Jackson’s opinion rejects Uber’s attempts to evade its obligations under federal and state non-discrimination laws stating that “Uber has fallen short of establishing that neither the ADA or DCHRA applies to its services categorically and as a matter of law”.
Baier said this issue extends far beyond Washington DC and he hopes it will have a trickle down effect on smaller fleets in rural areas like Cortland.
Baier said all transportation providers should be held to the same standards, whether it's Uber and Lyft or public transit buses.
"If they are a public transportation company, then they need to be accessible physically and have policies that protect people with disabilities from discrimination," he said. "This case is a step in that direction and will lead to nation-wide policy changes for these companies."
Disability rights advocates have long argued that rideshare services are covered under civil rights laws like the ADA and DCHRA. Baier said he believes the burden of obtaining accessible vehicles should be on the companies like Uber and Lyft, and not on the drivers for these companies.
"How can Uber and Lyft provide support to drivers who wish to offer accessible service but who may not have the personal resources to obtain the proper vehicle?" he said. One idea, said Baier, is that the companies purchase fleets of accessible vehicles to be distributed to drivers in various regions, or provide incentives for drivers to purchase such vehicles themselves.
The bottom line, says Baier, is that Uber and Lyft provide amazing services
in many communities and advocates just want to make sure everyone has the ability to use these services.
"The most inclusive community is the one whose many transportation options are accessible to people with disabilities," said Baier.
The ERC encourages anyone, including its members, who have experienced discrimination while using rideshare services like Uber to report their experiences to the ERC by calling 202-234-3062 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.