Uber was accused in a lawsuit filed Monday of discriminating against non-white drivers of color through its driver ratings system, adding to scrutiny over how the ride-hailing giant’s technology may unintentionally discriminate.
The class action lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, alleges Uber violated federal civil rights law by firing drivers based on racially biased driver ratings from customers.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Thomas Liu, who alleges he was fired in 2015 after riders were hostile to him because of his race and gave him unfair ratings.
Liu says they canceled on him after seeing his photograph and asked where he was from in an unfriendly way.
The complaint was originally filed in 2016 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the agency dismissed the claim in August and authorized Liu to bring his claim in court.
While independent contractors aren’t subject to workplace protections under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the lawsuit argues that drivers are employees, a classification Uber may have to adhere to in California depending on the outcome of Proposition 22.
Riders, too, have complained of racist and sexist ratings that could ultimately get them kicked off the platform.
In a statement, an Uber spokesperson said the lawsuit is “peculiarly timed” and “more than 5 years old,” adding that “ridesharing has greatly reduced bias for both drivers and riders, who now have fairer, more equitable access to work and transportation than ever before.
Uber also noted the lawsuit’s lead counsel, Shannon Liss-Riordan, has donated to the campaign against Prop 22, the California ballot backed by gig companies that would let Uber avoid making drivers employees.
This isn’t the first time Uber has been accused of having discrimination baked into its product. Over the summer, researchers at George Washington University found Uber and Lyft’s algorithm charges more for rides in non-white areas. And two studies have found that Black riders face higher cancellation rates and longer wait times than white riders.
While Uber said the GWU study didn’t take into account other factors such as time of day and “land-use/neighborhood patterns,” it’s an awkward spot for Uber considering the company bought billboards in August telling users to “delete the app” if they “tolerate racism.”
Liss-Riordan, known as “Sledgehammer Shannon,” has filed multiple lawsuits against gig companies representing independent contractors.
“Not only has Uber walked away from all responsibility as an employer and refused to pay its drivers proper wages, it has also used and popularized a system for allowing the public’s discriminatory tendencies to infect the decision of whether drivers can even continue working for Uber,” Liss-Riordan said in a statement to Forbes.