Settlement Between Uber and Blind Users Approved

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Uber settled two class actions in the Northern District of California this week, both of which will make the ride-sharing service safer and fairer for riders.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathaniel Cousins on Wednesday gave preliminary approval of a class action settlement between Uber and the National Federation of the Blind of California, and granted the organization’s motions to certify the class and add nationwide claims to its complaint.
     Plaintiffs Michael Pedersen, Michael Kelly and Michael Hingson will each receive $15,000 to resolve their state law damages claims after Uber drivers refused them rides because they had service animals with them. Uber will also pay the National Federation of the Blind $225,000 over the 3 1/2 years of the settlement agreement, and an additional $75,000 if the agreement is extended a fourth year.
     Class members will not receive a payout but will retain their rights to pursue damages claims.
     The plaintiffs accused Uber in 2014 of discriminating against blind Uber users by allowing drivers to deny rides because of service animals.
     Plaintiffs’ counsel Laurence Paradis of Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley said there have been 100 instances in which Uber drivers yelled to blind customers that their animals couldn’t get in the car before driving off. Some blind users have been refused rides two or three times in a row on the same day, he said.
     Under the terms of the settlement, Uber drivers will be blocked from receiving trip requests from riders until they confirm through the app that they understand Uber’s new service animal policy and agree to transport service animals. If they refuse, or if Uber finds that they refused a rider in person, Uber will fire them.
     Paradis believes that once the new policy goes into effect, drivers will quickly begin changing their behavior if they want to keep driving for Uber.
     The company has also agreed to provide data to an independent monitor, who will ensure Uber is complying with the new policy. If the monitor finds that Uber isn’t complying and its drivers are still refusing to transport service animals, it will ask for additional policy modifications to ensure that riders with animals are being picked up.
     Paradis called the settlement “groundbreaking” on Friday.
     “It’s the first nationwide settlement that seeks to make one of the big sharing-economy companies comply with civil rights laws,” he said.
     Uber on Thursday also agreed to pay $28.5 million to settle claims that it charges riders a “Safe Rides Fee” without notifying them first, and that it misrepresents the efforts it makes to keep riders safe.
     In a federal consolidated complaint, six plaintiffs who use the transportation app also contended that Uber doesn’t use the fee to pay for safety-related services.
     Uber denies the allegations, according to the settlement agreement.
     Under the settlement, each class member will be entitled to $1.14. After costs, class members will receive $0.82.
     “However evaluated, the settlement’s value on a per-class-member basis is significant compared to the average initial Safe Rides Fee of $1.12 paid by class members prior to disclosure of that fee after their first Uber ride and compared to the maximum potential recovery, which amounts to $5.33 per class member,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in the settlement.
     Uber will also be prohibited from charging the fee and from advertising itself as having the “safest ride on the road” with the “strictest safety standards possible.” It also can’t advertise that it screens its drivers for arrests in cases where it only screens for convictions.
     The plaintiffs sought to certify a class of all individuals who used the Uber app or website to request rides between 2013 and Jan. 31, 2016 in the United States and who have a U.S. payment profile.
     Attorney’s fees totaling 25 percent of the settlement fund or less will also be sought. Any remaining settlement funds will be paid to the National Consumer Law Center.
     Uber and attorneys for the Safe Rides Fee plaintiffs did not return requests for comment on Friday.

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