The California chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) accused the ride-sharing service Uber of discriminating against blind customers in a federal civil rights lawsuit, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
"Our right to independent travel is unjustly jeopardized when Uber drivers refuse to transport or harass blind customers due to the presence of their service animals," chapter president Mary Willows was quoted as saying.
The suit argues that Uber drivers around the country have refused to service blind passengers at least 30 times after learning that the customers had service dogs, including cases where clients were charged cancellation fees after being refused service, forcing them to file written complaints in order to get refunds.
In one instance, an Uber driver allegedly provided a blind woman in Sacramento with a ride this past June, but locked her service dog in the trunk without her consent and refused to let the animal out until after reaching the contracted destination.
A month earlier, another driver allegedly shouted "no dogs" and cursed at a customer after agreeing to pick up the rider and a friend. The driver then reportedly sped away, nearly hitting the dog but "bumping" the client's friend.
The company said in a statement that it requires drivers to provide services to blind customers and their service dogs.
"The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options for all, including users with visual impairments and other disabilities," the statement read. "It is Uber's policy that any driver partner that refuses to transport a service animal will be deactivated from the Uber platform."
However, according to the lawsuit, Uber has allegedly told blind patrons that it cannot claim responsibility for their drivers' actions because they are independent contractors. The company also allegedly refused to settle the dispute when contacted by the NFB this past June.
Uber faces separate lawsuits in California and Massachusetts from drivers arguing that the company is denying them benefits by classifying them as contractors and not employees. Both were filed by the same attorney, Shannon Liss-Riordan.
"It's these so-called new technology companies that are using old-school methods to keep their workers from having their rights under the law," she told the Boston Globe. "It's the newest spin to avoid employee classification."
[Image: "Blind man's hands holding a stick," via Shutterstock]