DOJ sues Uber for allegedly discriminating against passengers with disabilities

The complaint stems from a 'wait time' fee policy the company has had in place since 2016.

MOZCO Mateusz Szymanski via Getty Images

The US Department of Justice has sued Uber for allegedly discriminating against passengers with disabilities. In a complaint filed with the US District Court for Northern California, the agency claims Uber violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by implementing a policy that has seen the company charge “wait time” fees to passengers who, as a result of their disabilities, need more time to enter a car. The law prohibits discrimination of individuals with disabilities by private companies.

According to the Justice Department, the policy has been in place since 2016 when Uber implemented it in a number of US cities before eventually expanding its use nationwide. Anytime a passenger needs more than two minutes to enter an UberX car or more than five minutes in the case of an Uber Black or SUV vehicle, the company charges that individual a wait time fee. Uber contends most users pay, on average, less than $0.60 when that’s the case. However, passengers with disabilities, including those with wheelchairs and walkers, often need more time to enter a vehicle than those without.

“People with disabilities deserve equal access to all areas of community life, including the private transportation services provided by companies like Uber,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

A spokesperson for Uber called the lawsuit “surprising” and “disappointing.” The full statement reads:

Wait time fees are charged to all riders to compensate drivers after two minutes of waiting, but were never intended for riders who are ready at their designated pickup location but need more time to get into the car. We recognize that many riders with disabilities depend on Uber for their transportation needs, which is why we had been in active discussions with the DOJ about how to address any concerns or confusion before this surprising and disappointing lawsuit.

It has been our policy to refund wait time fees for disabled riders whenever they alerted us that they were charged. After a recent change last week, now any rider who certifies they are disabled will have fees automatically waived. We fundamentally disagree that our policies violate the ADA and will keep improving our products to support everyone’s ability to easily move around their communities.

The company also pointed to the fact it does not, by default, charge a wait time fee when someone requests a wheelchair accessible or Uber Assist ride. This isn’t the first time Uber has been sued for allegedly violating Title III of the ADA. In 2017, disability advocates in New York City filed a class action complaint against the company. At the time, the group said Uber was inaccessible to 99.9 percent of people with mobility disabilities.