News & Opinion | October 28, 2020 2:05 pm

A Former Driver Is Suing Uber for Racial Discrimination

Drivers can be fired for low ratings, which the lawsuit alleges are subject to racial bias

Uber sign on a car
A lawsuit claims Uber's rating system is subject to racism.
Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An ex-Uber driver who was fired in 2015 has filed a lawsuit against the ride-hail company alleging racial bias. The suit, filed in San Francisco court on Monday, accuses Uber of violating the Civil Rights Act by firing minority drivers based on Uber’s star-rating system, which the suit claims is vulnerable to racial bias.

“Uber’s use of its star rating system to terminate drivers constitutes unlawful discrimination based on race, both because it has a disparate impact on non-white drivers and because Uber is aware that passengers are prone to discriminate in their evaluation of drivers, but Uber has continued to use this system, thus making it liable for intentional race discrimination,” said the former Uber driver Thomas Liu, who was fired in October 2015 after his rating fell below 4.6, Vice reported.

Liu also claims he was subjected to racist treatment from passengers, who allegedly canceled rides after his picture became available or asked him “where he was from,” according to the suit.

Uber, however, has long considered drivers independent contractors, not company employees, who are thus not protected by the employment discrimination provisions in the Civil Rights Act. But according to Liu, Uber drivers are employees because they “perform a service in the usual course of Uber’s business” and because Uber requires its drivers to “abide by a litany of policies and rules.”

As Vice noted, Liu’s position is one the state of California agrees with, per a recent unanimous appeals court ruling that will force companies like Uber and Lyft to reclassify drivers as employees.