A new lawsuit accuses Uber of 'intentional race discrimination,' claiming the star-rating system it has used to fire drivers is biased

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Getty Images
  • A former Uber driver has filed a lawsuit accusing the ride-hailing firm of “intentional race discrimination” by using customers’ star ratings to fire drivers.
  • Uber dismissed the driver, Thomas Liu, from San Diego, in 2015 because his star rating fell below 4.6, according to the lawsuit. Liu argues that passengers rated him unfairly because of his race.
  • The lawsuit estimates that the company has fired “likely hundreds, if not thousands” of nonwhite Uber drivers because of its star-rating policy.
  • “Uber’s use of this system to determine driver terminations constitutes race discrimination, as it is widely recognised that customer evaluations of workers are frequently racially biased,” the lawsuit said.
  • Uber told Business Insider 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.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A former Uber driver filed a lawsuit on Monday accusing the ride-hailing company of discriminating against drivers of colour through its star-based customer-rating system.

Thomas Liu, a former Uber driver from San Diego, filed the class-action lawsuit over his dismissal from the company in 2015. His lawsuit claims he was fired because riders gave him unfair app ratings based on his race.

Uber customers can rate drivers after each ride using a scale of one to five stars. To stay working for Uber, drivers must meet a minimum average rating — when Liu was dismissed in 2015, the required rating in San Diego was 4.6.

“Uber’s use of this system to determine driver terminations constitutes race discrimination, as it is widely recognised that customer evaluations of workers are frequently racially biased,” the lawsuit said.

Liu said customers appeared “hostile” toward him, with some customers asking where he was from “in an unfriendly way,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accused Uber of violating federal civil rights and says the company is “liable for intentional race discrimination.”

The lawsuit estimated that “likely hundreds, if not thousands” of nonwhite Uber drivers across the US had been terminated because of Uber’s rating policy.

“Uber itself has recognised the racial bias of its own customers,” the lawsuit added, referring to how Uber had previously defended its lack of a tipping function by saying passengers might discriminate against nonwhite drivers.

Liu said he filed the lawsuit “on behalf of all minority Uber drivers across the country who have been terminated based upon Uber’s star rating system.”

Liu first filed a complaint in 2016 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which dismissed the claim in August.

Liu is now bringing it to a federal court in San Francisco, represented by the attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan. Once nicknamed “Sledgehammer Shannon,” she has filed several hundred successful lawsuits against gig-economy companies including FedEx, American Airlines, and Starbucks on behalf of their workers. Liss-Riordan first took on Uber in late 2012 — and won.

The new lawsuit asked the federal court to demand Uber to stop terminating workers based on star ratings. It also asked Uber to pay compensatory damages including back pay, as well as damages for emotional distress and Liu’s attorney fees.

An Uber representative told Business Insider the lawsuit was “flimsy” and “peculiarly timed,” as the case was more than five years old.

“Ridesharing has greatly reduced bias for both drivers and riders, who now have fairer, more equitable access to work and transportation than ever before,” it added.

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