In November of 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sued Uber over “Wait Time” fees. These fees were being charged to passengers who, because of a disability, needed more time to enter a car. In July of 2022, Uber settled this lawsuit.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) posted a news release on July 18, 2022. It was titled: “Uber Commits to Changes and Pays Millions to Resolve Justice Department Lawsuit for Overcharging People with Disabilities”. From the news release:

The Department of Justice filed in court today a multi-million-dollar settlement agreement with Uber Technologies Inc. (Uber) to resolve a lawsuit alleging that Uber violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the agreement, Uber will offer several million dollars in compensation to more than 65,000 Uber users who were charged discriminatory fees due to disability.

In November 2021, the department filed a lawsuit alleging that Uber violated Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination by private transportation companies like Uber. According to the complaint, in April 2016, Uber began charging passengers wait time fees in a number of cities, eventually expanding the policy nationwide. The wait time fees started two minutes after the Uber car arrived at the pickup location and were charged until the car began its trip.

The department’s complaint alleged that Uber violated the ADA by failing to reasonably modify its wait time fee policy for passengers who, because of disability, needed more than two minutes to get in an Uber car. Passengers with disabilities may need additional time to enter a car for various reasons. A passenger may, for example use a wheelchair or walker that needs to be broken down and stored in the car. Or a passenger who is blind may need additional time to safely walk from the pickup location to the car itself. The department’s lawsuit alleged that, even when Uber was aware that passengers’ need for additional time was clearly disability-based, Uber started charging a wait time fee at the two-minute mark.

Under the two-year agreement, Uber has committed to waive wait time fees for all Uber riders who certify that they (or someone they frequently travel with) need more time to get into an Uber car because of a disability. Uber also will ensure that refunds are easily available for anyone who does not have a waiver and is charged a wait time fee because of disability. Uber will advertise the wait time fee waiver program and train its customer service representatives on the waiver program and refund process to ensure that people with disabilities are not charged illegal fees.

Additionally, Uber will credit the accounts of more than 65,000 eligible riders who signed up for the waiver program for double the amount of wait time fees they were ever charged, which could amount to potentially hundred of thousands or millions of dollars in compensation. Uber will also pay $1,738,500 to more than one thousand riders who complained to Uber about being charged wait time fees because of disability, and $500,000 to other harmed individuals identified by the department…

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first made into law in 1990. There have been amendments to it since then. The main purpose is as follows:

  • To provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individual with disabilities;
  • To provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities;
  • To ensure that the Federal Government plays a certain role in enforcing the standards established in this chapter on behalf of individuals with disabilities; and
  • To invoke the sweep of congressional authority, including the power to enforce the fourteenth amendment and to regulate commerce, in order to address the major areas of discrimination faced day-to-day by people with disabilities.

In short, Uber never had the right to impose a wait fee on riders because of their disabilities. The ADA does not allow that because doing so is (obviously) discrimination against people who have a disability.

In my opinion, there must have been a high-up person at Uber believed they would get away with charging “wait fees” to riders who have disabilities. Uber was wrong about that and is now, quite literally, paying the price. I cannot understand why the company thought they could ignore a law that has provided protections from discrimination against people who have disabilities since 1990.

Here are some quotes from the DOJ News release:

“People with disabilities should not be made to feel like second-class citizens or punished because of their disability, which is exactly what Uber’s wait time fee policy did,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This agreement sends a strong message that Uber and other ride sharing companies will be held accountable if their services discriminate against people with disabilities. The Civil Rights Division remains committed to enforcing the ADA and ensuring that people with disabilities can travel free from barriers and indignities.”

“Ensuring equal access to transportation for those with disabilities is an important goal of the ADA,” said U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California. “People with disabilities must have access to ridesharing services provided by Uber and similar companies without enduring discriminatory wait time fees. This agreement removes that barrier to equal access for passengers with disabilities and provides a mechanism to compensate those harmed by Uber’s wait fee policy.”

Bloomberg reported a quote from Uber regarding the settlement:

“We’re pleased to have reached this agreement with the Department of Justice, and look forward to continuing to help everyone move easily around their communities,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “It has long been our policy to refund wait time fees for riders with a disability when they altered us that they were charged, and prior to this matter being filed we made changes so that any rider who shares that they have a disability would have wait time fees waived automatically.”

The Hill reported that same quote from Uber, and added more information:

“We are always working to improve accessibility for all users and encourage riders with a disability to utilize our self-declaration form to have wait time fees waived.”

TechCrunch reported the following:

Uber’s agreement to settle this case means more than getting justice for people with disabilities who have suffered discrimination. It is also yet another case of Uber being forced to settle a dispute that identifies the ride-hail giant as a transportation company, rather than just a platform that connects independent drivers with riders, as Uber has tried to define itself in the past. For example, in February, Uber settled a class action lawsuit from California drivers, paying $8.4 million for misclassifying them as contractors rather than employees.

The U.S. Department of Justice posted its news release in July – which just so happens to be Disability Pride Month.

Caroline Casey, writing for Forbes, explained:

Disability Pride Month looks to celebrate disability as an identity by sharing the experiences of the disabled community. The reason behind this month is a chance to share the joy and pride that disabled people can bring to their local and global communities. The disabled community is a vibrant part of society and makes up 15% of the population, and we are proud of that.

Cathy Reay, writing for Mashable, provided some history of Disability Pride Month:

Disability Pride Month started with a parade in Boston, US, in 1990 to celebrate the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law that prohibits the discrimination of disabled people in the U.S. There is an equivalent law in the UK, the Equality Act (2010). There was another parade in Boston in 1991 and the main event moved to Chicago, where the first parade was held on 2004. New York City has held annual parades since 2015.

Both my husband, and myself, have disabilities. It is reassuring to know that the U.S. Department of Justice (during the Biden-Harris administration) will stand up for people who have disabilities.

Uber Settles DOJ Lawsuit Over Wait Fees is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.

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