On October 26, 2020, a former Uber driver from San Diego sued the company for racial discrimination for how it uses passengers’ reviews to evaluate and fire drivers. According to the lawsuit, the company relies on a rating system that results in the disproportionate firing of people who are not white or who speak with accents.
The suit was filed in San Francisco and is seeking class-action status. It claims drivers are let go if their average ratings drop too low. The lawsuit aims to represent all minority Uber drivers who have been removed from the app because of poor star ratings. It is asking the court to order Uber to stop using passenger evaluations to determine when to ban drivers from the app.
Thomas Liu, the plaintiff, is described as Asian, from Hawaii, and speaking with a slight accent. He claims he was fired in October 2015 after his average star rating fell below 4.6. Liu believes riders gave him bad reviews because of his race. Uber riders, after completing a ride, are asked to rate their driver on a scale of one to five. According to Uber, the system helps keep riders safe by identifying problematic drivers.
Prior to filing a federal lawsuit, Liu had to file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He was able to pursue his claim in court after the EEOC did not make a determination on his case and dismissed it in August.
According to Shannon Liss-Riordan, the driver’s attorney, “Uber has long known that relying on a system that depends on passenger evaluation of drivers is discriminatory. Uber’s use of this system to determine driver terminations constitutes race discrimination, as it is widely recognized that customer evaluations of workers are frequently racially biased. Indeed, Uber itself has recognized the racial bias of its own customers.”
Uber strongly contends the allegation that their rating system is racially discriminatory. In a statement, the company called the suit “flimsy,” arguing 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.”
When questioned about how the passenger star ratings factor into a driver’s termination, an Uber spokesperson would not comment. The spokesperson, however, pointed out that when passengers give drivers low ratings, the company asks for more information to determine if bias played any role.
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