Bloomberg Law
Free Newsletter Sign Up
Bloomberg Law
Welcome
Go
Free Newsletter Sign Up

Uber Driver’s Ratings Bias Class Action Dismissed by Judge (1)

Aug. 2, 2021, 1:55 PMUpdated: Aug. 2, 2021, 3:26 PM

A class action against Uber Technologies, Inc. filed by drivers alleging systemic race discrimination based on the app’s customer rating system was dismissed by a California federal judge, but with the permission to file a new complaint.

The lawsuit doesn’t adequately allege facts to support that the star rating system has a racially disparate impact, nor that the company intentionally discriminated against the would-be lead plaintiff, said Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on July 30, granting Uber’s motion to dismiss.

Chhabria acknowledged that plaintiff Thomas Liu’s theory is plausible and will allow the former Uber driver the ability to refile his lawsuit to plead the disparate impact claims that would mean the rating system leads to discrimination. He previously gave Liu the opportunity to file a new complaint after a dismissal in March.

Liu brought the case against the app-based ride-hailing company in October on behalf of all non-White drivers nationwide. He alleged that drivers were fired after customers racially discriminated against them by giving them unfavorable marks using the app’s built-in driver rating system, a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Uber prompts customers to rate drivers on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, and then “deactivates” workers whose average rating it deems unsatisfactory, according to the lawsuit. Liu says that while driving for Uber in San Diego, he experienced signs of bias such as customers canceling when they saw his photograph, or asking in an unfriendly manner “where he was from.” He claims Uber terminated him in October 2015 because his average customer rating fell below its minimum of 4.6.

Deciding Who Gets Fired

Liu’s attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan of Lichten & Liss-Riordan P.C. said the judge appears to be indicating that he will let the complaint process proceed, but wants to see more work done first on the front end. She said that actual data analysis can’t be done until discovery begins.

“This is an extremely important case, since Uber and so many gig companies have been heavily relying on customer ratings to guide workplace decision-making,” Liss-Riordan said. “Employers cannot abdicate their role to customers to decide which workers get fired and which get special benefits, given that customer feedback is all but certain to contain bias.”

Attorneys for Uber didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A company spokesman previously called the lawsuit “flimsy.”

Liu’s class action is just one case in a sea of recent litigation over the employment status of workers for app-based gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft Inc., and Grubhub Inc. The companies argue that their drivers are contractors who aren’t covered by federal civil rights laws.

Liu alleges the level of control Uber exerts over its workers establishes employee status and therefore civil rights protections, according to his filing. The lawsuit ultimately seeks an injunction to stop Uber from using the star rating system to determine driver terminations and award damages, including back pay for class members who were terminated due to the rating system.

Sophia Behnia, Andrew Michael Spurchise, and Blair Copple Senesi of Littler Mendelson P.C., represent Uber. Anne R. Kramer of Lichten and Liss-Riordan also represent Liu.

The case is Liu v. Uber Technologies, Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 3:20-cv-07499, 7/30/21.

(Updates with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Dan Papscun in Washington at dpapscun@bloombergindustry.com; Erin Mulvaney in Washington at emulvaney@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; Travis Tritten at ttritten@bgov.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com