A federal court rejected an attempt by Uber Technologies, Inc. on April 17 to dismiss a lawsuit accusing it of discriminating against blind passengers.
“Uber is a fantastic service – in theory,” said Michael Pederson, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, in a news release. “I am relieved that the judge is going to give us our day in court to show just how frustrating and inappropriate many of these encounters with Uber drivers have been for me and for other people who use service animals.”
The National Federation of the Blind and three blind individuals with services dogs sued the popular phone taxi-hailing service in September 2014. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs, who are being represented by Disability Rights Advocates and TRE Legal, detail a variety of situations where drivers refused to pick up passengers with service dogs and even charged cancellation fees.
Uber argued that it is not subject to Americans with Disabilities Act discrimination requirements, on the grounds that it does not qualify as a place of “public accommodation.”
Although “public accommodation” is not defined in the ADA, the law lists 12 examples. The plaintiffs argued that Uber’s services fall under the category of “travel service,” an argument that was viewed favorably by the court.
In addition, Uber argued that the NFB did not have so-called “associational standing” to bring the lawsuit, since some of its members signed binding arbitration agreements to settle disputes with Uber, when they created Uber accounts through their mobile app. Uber also argued that some of the individual plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuit, meaning they had not been sufficiently harmed for the purposes of bringing a lawsuit.
The court ruled against Uber on all accounts.
In doing so, the court found that the plaintiffs easily satisfied the standing requirements, finding that it is mandated by the ADA to construe standing requirements “liberally.”
The court gave short shrift to Uber’s argument that it was not a “public accommodation,” similarly ruling that Congress intended for the ADA to have a long reach.
“By including ‘travel service’ among the list of services considered ‘public accommodations,’ Congress clearly contemplated that ‘service establishments’ include providers of services which do not require a person to physically enter an actual physical structure,” the court stated.