A former Uber driver alleges in a proposed class action that the ride-hailing company’s use of its star-based rating system in weighing employment decisions is discriminatory against minority drivers.
The nine-page lawsuit, filed in California federal court, alleges Uber’s use of the star rating system to determine which drivers get terminated, or “deactivated,” amounts to discrimination in that it’s “widely recognized that customer evaluations of workers are frequently racially biased.”
“Indeed, Uber itself has recognized the racial bias of its own customers,” the complaint claims. “Thus, Uber’s use of this customer rating system to decide employment terminations constitutes both disparate impact discrimination, as well as intentional discrimination, against non-white drivers.”
To continue working for Uber, a driver must maintain a minimum average star rating set by company management, the suit says. According to the lawsuit, the minimum star rating has “frequently been set very high, even close to a perfect score.” For instance, the suit says, for an Uber driver to be allowed to continue driving in the San Diego area in 2015, they were required to maintain a star rating of at least 4.6 on a scale of one to five.
The plaintiff, a former California Uber driver who was deactivated in October 2015, alleges the defendant has “long known that relying on a system that depends on passenger evaluation of drivers is discriminatory,” and that passengers “frequently discriminate against Uber drivers.” The lawsuit says Uber, in the past, tried to justify its refusal to allow a method for tipping within its app by asserting that passengers “discriminate against racial minorities,” with the concern that “allowing tipping would therefore discriminate against minority drivers in the wages they would receive.”
“Thus, Uber’s continued use of its star rating system to determine driver terminations is racially discriminatory, both because it has a disparate impact on minority drivers and because Uber’s continued use of this star rating system constitutes intentional discrimination against minority drivers,” the case alleges.
The plaintiff is described in the complaint as an Asian male from Hawaii. The man, who the suit says has a slight accent when he speaks, claims he noticed while driving for Uber that passengers would “appear hostile to him” and that some would cancel ride requests “after he had already accepted the ride and the rider was able to view his picture.”
“He also experienced riders asking where he was from in an unfriendly way,” the suit says, alleging the plaintiff was disparately impacted by Uber’s decision to use its star rating system in weighing employment decisions. According to the complaint, the plaintiff was deactivated by Uber in October 2015 because his average star rating fell below 4.6.
The lawsuit rounds out by arguing Uber drivers are employees, and not independent contractors, under federal law given that drivers, for instance, must undergo background checks, be held to certain vehicle standards and have their performance monitored.
The case, which alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, looks to represent a class consisting of all minority Uber drivers nationwide who have been terminated based on the company’s star rating system.
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