A former Uber driver in San Diego sued the ride-hailing company on Monday for racial discrimination in how it uses passengers’ reviews to evaluate drivers.
The company relies on a star rating system, which the lawsuit says disproportionately leads to the firing of people who are not white or who speak with accents.
“Uber has long known that relying on a system that depends on passenger evaluation of drivers is discriminatory,” wrote the driver’s attorney, Shannon Liss-Riordan, in the federal lawsuit, which was filed in San Francisco and is seeking class-action status. The suit claims Uber fires drivers if their average ratings drop too low.
The suit aims to represent all minority Uber drivers who have been kicked off the app because of poor star ratings. It asks the court to order Uber to stop using passenger evaluations when deciding whether to ban drivers from the app.
“Uber’s use of this system to determine driver terminations constitutes race discrimination, as it is widely recognized that customer evaluations of workers are frequently racially biased. Indeed, Uber itself has recognized the racial bias of its own customers,” Liss-Riordan wrote in the suit.
Uber strongly contests this allegation. In a statement, the company called the suit “flimsy,” arguing 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.”
An Uber spokesman would not comment on how passenger star ratings factor into a driver’s termination. But the spokesman pointed out that when riders give a driver a low rating, the company asks for more information to determine if bias played any role.
The app asks passengers, after completing a ride, to rate their driver on a scale of 1 to 5. Uber says this system helps keeps rides safe by identifying problematic drivers.