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Uber ordered to pay $1.1 million to blind woman after she was denied rides 14 times

"I'm sorry it came to this. I would have preferred that my civil rights be respected. But it sends a strong message that this is not acceptable."

Uber ordered to pay $1.1 million to blind woman after she was denied rides 14 times
Cover Image Source: A close-up of an Uber sticker on the side of a car on February 19, 2021, in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Uber has been ordered to pay $1.1 million to a blind woman after an arbitrator ruled that the company's drivers discriminated against her and her guide dog on more than a dozen separate occasions. Attorney Adam Wolf told CNN that his client, Lisa Irving — a San Francisco resident — said she was denied rides or verbally abused by drivers 14 times in 2016 and 2018. "I felt demeaned, humiliated, devalued, embarrassed, angered, frustrated, and violated," Irving, who won the judgment in a binding arbitration ruling, said in a video statement. As per the arbitrator's award posted online by her attorneys, Irving was awarded $324,000 in damages and more than $800,000 in attorney fees and court costs.



According to BBC, Irving said she had worried about her safety on multiple occasions after she was left stranded late at night due to being rejected by drivers. In one instance, one driver allegedly cut her trip short, falsely claiming to have arrived at her destination. Irving stated that canceled rides also led to her being late for work, which ultimately contributed to her being fired from her job. In addition to being denied rides, she claimed some drivers became verbally abusive towards her and her service dog Bernie. "[The driver] yelled at her to get out of his car at least fifteen times, at one point pulling over to demand she get out in a dangerous area, making her feel helpless by his intimidation and threats," the arbitrator wrote.



Despite complaining to Uber about the discrimination she faced, she continued to face the same behavior from drivers, she said. "Of all Americans who should be liberated by the rideshare revolution, the blind and visually impaired are among those who stand to benefit the most," Irving's attorney Catherine Cabalo said in a statement. "The bottom line is that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a guide dog should be able to go anywhere that a blind person can go."



The arbitrator reportedly rejected Uber's argument that it was not responsible for its drivers' violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because they are independent contractors. "Whether its drivers are employees or independent contractors, Uber is nonetheless subject to the ADA as a result of its contractual relationship with its drivers," the award said. "Uber is liable for each of these incidents under the DOJ interpretation of the ADA as well as due to Uber's contractual supervision over its drivers and for its failure to prevent discrimination by properly training its workers."



In a statement issued to media following the ruling, a spokesman for Uber said the ridesharing company disagreed with the award. "We are proud Uber's technology has helped people who are blind obtain rides and regret Ms. Irving's experience. Drivers using the Uber app are expected to serve riders with service animals and comply with accessibility and other laws, and we regularly provide education to drivers on that responsibility. Our dedicated team looks into each complaint and takes appropriate action," the company said in a statement.



This is not the first time Uber has faced a legal battle from the blind community. The National Federation of the Blind in the US sued the company in 2014 over guide-dog regulations. The case was settled in 2017 when Uber agreed to ensure that its drivers are aware that they were legally obliged to provide service to people with guide dogs. "I'm sorry it came to this," Irving told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. "I would have preferred that my civil rights be respected. But it sends a strong message that this is not acceptable."

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