Uber Faces Lawsuit Over Alleged Racial Discrimination of Star Ratings System

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Uber Faces Lawsuit Over Alleged Racial Discrimination of Star Ratings System
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Popular ride-hailing company Uber is facing a class action race discrimination lawsuit regarding their “star rating system”.

The “star rating system” is used to evaluate drivers on a scale from one to five after each ride. This review system determines whether or not a driver should be “deactivated” or terminated. However, the complaint points out that because customers may be racially biased, non-white drivers receive a higher percentage of unjustified negative reviews, resulting in a higher percentage of unjustified non-white terminations.

The lawsuit against Uber hinges on the idea that the star rating system allows for unchecked race discrimination.

The official complaint was brought forward by plaintiff and former Uber driver Thomas Liu and on behalf of all non-white Uber drivers across the nation who are or were similarly affected. The official complaint alleges that Uber itself has “recognized the racial bias of its own customers”. Originally, Uber did not want to provide a system for customers to tip their drivers over concern that minority drivers would not receive fair tips, and that this might lead to fair wage discrepancies.

The complaint continues to point out that if Uber admits to knowing about the problem of race discrimination on behalf of their customers yet continues to use a rating system that relies on customers as a means of employment decision, this “constitutes both disparate impact discrimination, as well as intentional discrimination, against non-white drivers.”

The minimum star rating to continue working for Uber is criticized in the lawsuit as “very high, even close to a perfect score”.

In order to continue working for Uber, drivers are required to maintain a minimum average of customer ratings. However, this average is up to management’s decision and can fluctuate over time. For example, the complaint points out that in San Diego in 2015, the minimum average star rating was 4.6 out of 5. While having high standards for employees is not illegal, the oversights in the rating system present significant challenges to non-white drivers trying to maintain this high rating average.

For example, Liu alleges that he experienced racial discrimination from customers in multiple ways while working for Uber. He noticed that passengers often appeared hostile to him when they noticed his Hawaiin accent, especially when asking where he was from. Other times, he noticed that customers would cancel their ride requests as soon as his picture became available for them to see.

The issue of the star ratings system touches on another recent issue: employee classification via the AB5 bill.

While Uber may have previously attempted to shift some of its liability with the argument that their drivers are not employees but independent contractors, a recent employment bill AB5 is likely to negate that argument entirely. In the same year, the State of California sued Uber and another rideshare company for failing to comply with AB5, a new employment bill requiring rideshare companies to classify their drivers as employees rather than “gig” workers or independent contractors.

With the employee classification comes a myriad of protections, including minimum wage, employee benefits, and unemployment benefits. Theoretically, this bill also implies certain civil protections for employees which often go unattended in gig worker environments.

This civil class action complaint is seeking a variety of damages.

Damages requested by Liu on behalf of all similarly situated Uber drivers include an injunction preventing the ride-hailing company from using the star rating system to determine terminations, as well as compensation for damages including back pay, pain and suffering, and punitive damages as the court decides.

With the rise of awareness regarding the challenges that non-white employees face, as well as the predicted impact of the AB5 bill, it seems likely that this will not be the last lawsuit of its kind seeking justice for employees suffering the effects of racial discrimination in the workplace.

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