Department of Justice Sues Uber for Allegedly Charging Wait Fees to Disabled Customers in Violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act
On November 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit alleges that Uber’s policy of charging “wait time” fees to its passengers violates Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits private transportation companies from discriminating based on disability.
Under the policy, which was first implemented in April 2016, wait time fees start two minutes after the Uber car arrives at the designated pickup location (or five minutes for Uber Black or SUV) and continue to accrue until the vehicle begins its trip. The Justice Department’s complaint alleges the policy violates the ADA because passengers with physical disabilities may require more time to enter the vehicle. Reasons could include a passenger needing additional time to stow a wheelchair or walker, or a visually impaired passenger needing extra time to safely walk from the pickup location to the car. The lawsuit also alleges that Uber had failed to reasonably modify its wait time policy for disabled passengers, even on some occasions where they were specifically informed of a particular passenger’s need for additional time due to a disability. The Department of Justice argues that Uber’s wait time policy has overcharged and harmed many disabled passengers (and potential passengers who may avoid using Uber due to the fees) across the country, and Uber must ensure equal access to its services for everyone and cannot penalize passengers with disabilities by charging them more simply because they need additional time to get into a car.
The lawsuit against Uber seeks specific relief from the court, including an order requiring Uber to:
1. Adjust its wait time policy to comply with the mandate of the ADA;
2. Train its employees and drivers on the requirements of the ADA;
3. Pay monetary damages to disabled individuals who have already been charged an improper wait fee; and
4. Pay a civil penalty to support the public’s interest in eliminating disability discrimination.
In response, Uber released a statement saying they disagree that their policies violate the ADA, and they had discussed these issues with the Justice Department before the lawsuit was filed. Uber maintains that it has refunded wait time fees for disabled passengers when they advised the company that they were charged. Uber has also made recent changes to the policy whereby any passenger who certifies they are disabled will automatically get a waiver of the wait time fees. Uber indicated that it is committed to continuing to improve its services to support everyone’s ability to easily move around their communities. Although wait time fees are charged to all riders to compensate drivers for waiting, Uber states that the fees were never intended for riders who are ready at their designated pickup location but need more time to get into the car due to a disability.
Walsworth will continue to monitor this lawsuit, as the outcome could have far-reaching implications for a variety of businesses that charge customers wait fees. For additional information on the case or its potential impact on your business, please contact Soniya Khemlani.