Uber sued over alleged ‘racially biased’ rating system for drivers

Ride-hailing app Uber is being sued over allegations that the company’s rating system for drivers is racially biased, according to a complaint filed Monday in federal court. 

A former driver for Uber, San Diego resident Thomas Liu, alleges that the use of Uber’s passenger star rating system to determine termination had a “disparate impact on him” and other minority drivers. He claims he was “deactivated” as a driver in 2015 when his rating from passengers fell below Uber’s required minimum rating of 4.6.

“While Uber has long attempted to avoid paying its drivers proper wages, based on its misclassification of them as independent contractors, its denial of employment status also affects drivers’ ability to enforce their right to be free of racial discrimination on the job,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, lead attorney for the proposed class, said in a statement.

“Uber’s pattern of exploiting its drivers in the name of the dollar is well documented, and this lawsuit seeks to hold the company accountable for the institutional racism it has embraced and perpetuated,” Liss-Riordan added.

Uber, however, pushed back on the claims in the “flimsy lawsuit” and questioned the timing of the complaint being filed roughly a week before Election Day, when Proposition 22, a ballot measure that would exempt gig companies from treating workers as employees, is on the ballot in California. 

“This flimsy lawsuit—peculiarly timed, for a claim more than 5 years old—can’t distract from the simple fact 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 said in a statement. “That’s why dozens of community advocates and civil rights groups have joined 72% of drivers in supporting Yes on Prop 22 to save ridesharing in California.”

Uber did not directly respond to Liu’s allegations in its statement in response to the lawsuit. 

Liu is Asian and from Hawaii and speaks with a slight accent, according to the complaint filed in the Northern District of California. 

Liu said that while driving for Uber he noticed “passengers appearing hostile to him, which appeared to him to be a result of racial discrimination.” He said that passengers would cancel rides after he had already accepted and they were able to view his picture and that riders would ask where he was from “in an unfriendly way,” according to the complaint. 

The case is seeking class-action status and aims to represent all minority Uber drivers across the country who have “been terminated upon Ubers’ star rating system.”  

The lawsuit targeting the rating policy comes as Uber and other app-based gig companies are locked in a campaign to fight compliance with AB5 — the landmark labor law that established a test for determining whether workers can be classified as independent contractors rather than employees. 

Uber and Lyft have resisted complying with the law since it took effect earlier this year. If they were treated as full employees, drivers would get basic worker protections. 

A California appeals court last week dismissed a challenge to a ruling requiring Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as employees. The appeals court decision compels Uber and Lyft to comply with AB5 as ordered by a San Francisco Superior Court Judge in August, though likely not for at least 30 days. 

The battle over Proposition 22 is reportedly the costliest ballot measure campaign in the nation’s history, with more than $186 million in contributions to the campaign in support of Proposition 22.

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