Lawsuit: Uber driver locked seeing-eye dog in trunk

A blind author and the National Federation of the Blind sued ridesharing company Uber in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday, alleging that it discriminates against blind riders with guide dogs.

The lawsuit alleges that some Uber drivers have refused to give rides to blind people with service dogs and that others have mishandled the dogs or harassed their owners. It asks for an injunction requiring Uber Technologies Inc. to take steps to ensure that its drivers don’t illegally refuse to transport blind people with service dogs.

Uber, based in San Francisco, is a transportation network service that uses a smartphone application to connect passengers with drivers who are willing to give them rides for pay.

The lawsuit was filed by the National Federation of the Blind’s California affiliate and Michael Hingson, a blind author and public speaker who lives in Victorville in San Bernardino County. It claims the alleged practices violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the state Unruh Civil Rights Act and Disabled Persons Act.

Uber issued a statement saying it had not yet been officially notified of the lawsuit, but noting that its policy is to terminate the use of drivers who refuse to transport service animals:

“The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options for all, including users with visual impairments and other disabilities. …┬áIt is Uber’s policy that any driver partner that refuses to transport a service animal will be deactivated from the Uber platform.”

The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs are aware of at least 30 instances nationwide in which drivers in the company’s UberX program have refused to transport service animals. It says that in another instance, a driver placed a blind woman’s guide dog in the trunk of his car.

National Federation of the Blind of California President Mary Willows said in a statement:

“Our right to independent travel is unjustly jeopardized when Uber drivers refuse to transport or harass blind customers due to the presence of their service animals.”

The lawsuit says the federation and Hingson sought to negotiate with Uber to resolve their claims without a lawsuit, but were unable to do so. It alleges:

“When Uber denies rides to blind riders with service animals, blind individuals experience several harms. They face unexpected delays, they must arrange alternate transportation that is sometimes more costly, and they face the degrading experience of being denied a basic service that is available to all other paying customers.”