Uber Order to Pay $1.1 Million to Blind Woman and Her Guide Dog in Discrimination Claim, Attorney Says

Sign with logo at the headquarters of car-sharing technology company Uber in the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood of San Francisco, California,
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Between 2016 and 2018, Lisa Irving and her guide dog, Bernie, were refused rides or endured alleged verbal abuse by drivers a total of 14 times, according to her attorney, Adam Wolf.

Uber has been ordered to dole out $1.1 million to a visually impaired San Francisco woman and her guide dog, who were denied rides by the popular ride-sharing app on more than a dozen occasions. The amount paid may be the largest award ever issued to a blind ride-share passenger for repeated driver violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), according to a published report. 

Between 2016 and 2018, Lisa Irving and her guide dog, Bernie, were refused rides or endured alleged verbal abuse by drivers a total of 14 times, according to her attorney, Adam Wolf. At various times, Wolf said, Irving feared for her safety and was left in potentially life-threatening situations. On Thursday, Wolf filed a petition to affirm the award in San Francisco Superior Court, according to a news release.

According to Irving's legal team, Uber attempted to evade the Federal Disabilities Rights Law by claiming it is immune from disabilities-related claims arising from the conduct of its drivers. Uber alleged that its drivers are independent contractors and thereby, not responsible for its drivers’ violations of the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA); however, an arbitrator rejected Uber’s argument, the release said.

“Uber is liable for each of these incidents under the (Department of Justice) 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,” the release said

Irving won the case and was awarded $324,000 in damages and more than $800,000 in attorney fees and court costs, according to the arbitrator’s award that was posted online by her attorneys.

In a compelling video statement, Irving expressed how she felt during the alleged abuse, "I felt demeaned, humiliated, devalued, embarrassed, angered, frustrated and violated," CNN reported. 

Over the years, Irving and her pooch were not only denied rides, according to her attorney.  She recalled one occasion in which a driver yelled at her to get out of his car at least fifteen times, and at one point pulled the car over and demanded that she get out in a dangerous area. Irving said the driver’s behavior made her feel “helpless by his intimidation and threats,” the arbitrator wrote. 

She also alleged that the constant refusal of the ride-share resulted in her termination from her employer because she was frequently late to work, the award said.

“Uber offensively claimed that the Americans With Disabilities Act does not apply to it.  Based on what we already have seen, dozens of cases like this will likely end up getting filed.  Uber needs to do the right thing and stop discriminating against Americans with disabilities," Wolf said. 

An Uber spokesperson disagreed with the award and disputed Irving’s claims and said its community guidelines prohibit drivers from denying rides to passengers with service animals. They said the company’s technology has “helped people who are blind obtain rides and regret Irving’s experience and that they regularly provide education to drivers on that responsibly," CNN reported.

“We are proud Uber’s technology has helped people who are blind obtain rides and regret Ms. Irving’s experience," Uber’s Head of Safety Communications, Andrew Hasbun told Inside Edition Digital. "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."

In 2016, Uber settled a lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that passengers with guide dogs are given equal access to transportation, the news outlet reported.