Update for Uber Riders Accompanied by Service Animals

The case of National Federation of the Blind v. Uber Technologies, Inc., 14-cv-04086 NC (N.D. Cal.), challenges discrimination experienced by riders with service animals who want to use the Uber ridesharing service. We are preparing to return to court to address ongoing discrimination and need your statement by April 17, 2020, in support of the effort.

Dear Uber Riders Accompanied By Service Animals and Interested Parties:

You are receiving this letter because you have previously communicated with us or are a member of the class or an interested party in the case of National Federation of the Blind v. Uber Technologies, Inc., 14-cv-04086 NC (N.D. Cal.). The case challenges discrimination experienced by riders with service animals who want to use the Uber ridesharing service. We are preparing to return to court to address ongoing discrimination and need your statement by April 17, 2020, in support of the effort.

On December 6, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California approved a nationwide class action settlement, reflected in this Settlement Agreement. Further information is available on the National Federation of the Blind’s rideshare page. In compliance with the settlement agreement, the law firms Disability Rights Advocates, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, LLP, and TRE Legal Practice, the approved Class Counsel, have been monitoring progress under the settlement. The following is an update on those monitoring efforts and a description of how you can help.

During compliance monitoring for the period between February 16, 2017, the first date for which Uber reported this data, up through December 31, 2018, Uber disclosed that it had received 11,295 rider complaints of denials due to service animals and 3,268 reports of non-denial service-animal discrimination, all within the United States and Washington D.C. The number of such denials per month fluctuated up and down, as reflected in this table and this audio and visual line graph.

Based on the information currently available, the overall number of such denials did not appear to materially decrease as of December 2018, which is in line with what Class Counsel and the NFB have heard from some of you based on your individual experiences.

Uber suggests that the number of complaints should be considered in the context of its overall increases or decreases in trip volume for general ridership. The percentage of all trips that resulted in a complaint to Uber are disclosed on this chart.

Class Counsel and the NFB do not believe that a comparison of total general trip volume to reported ride denials is a sufficiently reliable measure of settlement effectiveness. Trip volume percentage does not account for unreported denials or complaint fatigue over time. Instead, Class Counsel proposes that the parties consider a more objective comparison of trip cancellation rates for the general population of Uber riders and control groups of blind riders who travel with service animals and blind riders who do not travel with service animals. This additional data would help determine whether the settlement has resulted in a statistically significant decrease in denials for service animal users relative to the number of rides and cancellations for Uber riders as a whole. Uber is refusing to disclose this data on comparative cancellation rates.

Further data exists from Uber and the National Federation of the Blind’s national testing program for the time period from January 2019 to present. However, that data is still covered by confidentiality in accordance with the settlement terms and court order.

Given the data that is currently available, Class Counsel and the NFB proposed that Uber agree to several substantive settlement modifications that were meant to materially reduce this apparently persistent discrimination. The Report of the Third Party Monitor for the first year of the settlement highlights some of the particular issues that have been discussed during monitoring.

Uber has rejected the following commitments that Class Counsel and NFB have asked Uber to make through the settlement monitoring and alternative dispute resolution procedures:

  • Adopt and disclose policies and training materials meant to improve consistency of terminations for drivers who knowingly deny riders with service animals (including policies on contacting witnesses of discrimination)
  • Translate service animal related driver education materials into non-English languages to ensure that drivers with limited English proficiency are made aware of their responsibility to transport riders with service animals
  • Develop additional incentive programs that encourage drivers to transport riders with service animals
  • Provide greater detail about investigations and reasons for decisions on a limited set of complaints as requested by Class Counsel

The parties have been negotiating various compliance concerns and, in some cases, Uber has corrected non-compliance with existing obligations and fixed discriminatory policies with respect to the shared rides available under the Pool service. But more is clearly required to make a meaningful reduction in the magnitude of discrimination, such as the reasonable requests above that Uber has thus far rejected. Class Counsel, the NFB and the Class Representatives have worked within the confines of the settlement process to collaborate on solutions. We now have no further recourse but to go back to court to seek additional relief.

You can help in two important ways. First, continue to report every incident of discrimination to Uber to ensure that all discrimination is considered as we measure progress; letting denials go unreported misrepresents the scope of the problem in the currently available data sets. Second, respond to this letter and offer to provide Class Counsel with your signed statement by April 17, 2020, if any of the following apply to you:

  • A persistently substantial percentage of your rides result in overt discrimination by drivers when you notify them of the presence of your service animal
  • A significant number of your ride denials occur in sequence or across a brief period of time when drivers are made aware of the presence of your service animal
  • Uber often responds by only warning Drivers after you presented Uber staff with compelling evidence of the driver’s knowing denial because of your service animal
  • Uber often lets drivers off with a warning without interviewing one or more witnesses whose contact information was provided to Uber staff in support of a knowing denial
  • Drivers seemed unaware of their legal obligations due to language barriers
  • You find it difficult to easily obtain information about a driver who cancels before starting a trip
  • You have changed your frequency of submitting service animal-related complaints to Uber or experience other frustration with the amount of effort needed to submit complaints

Thank you for your continued efforts to hold Uber accountable for the discrimination you face because of your service animals. Class Counsel, the NFB and the individual Class Representatives understand your frustration as we all work to solve this complex problem. We are committed to take all steps needed to advocate for your rights during the remainder of the settlement term, which expires in July 2020, and then beyond toward a broader set of post-settlement protections for your legal right to travel with a service animal. Contact Class Counsel to share your statement as follows:

Additional Resources:

This linked article gives guidance on how to submit effective and accurate complaints to Uber.

Uber’s terms may be of interest for individuals considering arbitration of state law damages claims, including the exclusion of procedures in small claims court from the arbitration requirement.