In response to Fandango’s Who Won the Week un-post, I have been looking at my own newsfeeds.
Following my very “UK” story last week, I’m gonna head over to Fandango’s backyard, with a story which I originally picked up from the BBC, but where I gleaned most of my information from a 1 April article in the San Francisco Chronicle. So in total contrast to last week, this story is probably unknown to most UK readers. US readers, however, and especially Fandango, might be able to mark me on my accuracy.
We’ve all heard of Uber, right? It has become quite famous, here, for its use of workers which it claims are self-employed. Uber claims it offers a service to match people with rides, but that those rides themselves are independent operators. Uber fights very hard to maintain this distinction, and it is core to their business model. However, an increasing number of courts (worldwide) say differently. That Uber’s drivers are plain, vanilla employees.
Now, in this case, we’re not talking about a court. When Americans sign up to use Uber, they agree to be bound by an Independent Arbitrator. So, for now, we are talking about an arbitrator, although this case might well go further.
This case involves a woman (she was actually in San Diego at the time, not San Fran) called Lisa Irving, who last week satisfied the arbitrator that Uber had discriminated against her.
Ms Irving is blind, and she had a guide dog, a lab called Bernie. And she was able to cite fourteen incidents (she claims there were actually about sixty in total) where her ride had gone wrong, because drivers, on seeing Bernie, would refuse the ride. Or, on one occasion, the driver accepted the ride only to subsequently get mad… at Bernie! These refusals, in turn, caused varying degrees of tardiness, the most extreme being to miss doctors appointments, or to be late for work.
This despite the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which classes Bernie as a “service animal”, and which gives service animals absolute rights to travel with the humans they assist.
Uber offered their standard defence – that it was individual drivers who had refused travel, so Ms Irving’s beef was with them, not with Uber. They even pointed out that they issue strict guidelines to anybody driving for them, regarding adherence to legislation like ADA. In addition, Uber issued various statements to the media, along the lines of how their drivers offer a generally wonderful travel experience to blind people.
The Arbitrator rejected this defence. Pure and simply, Uber offers the service on its web site, so it carries the can. They accepted Ms Irving’s version of events, and awarded her $300k in damages, plus $800k in costs.
Now, I could just leave it there and say that Lisa Irving won the week, but I want to take it a step further. It’s about the statements coming out from Uber. “We are proud Uber’s technology has helped people who are blind locate and obtain rides” was one such statement.
Proud? Well, I can think of 300,000 reasons why you oughtn’t to be proud!
It’s easy to cite Orwell’s dystopia at all manner of things nowadays, but this is a new form of Newspeak that I am hearing. Big companies, governments, offer up all sorts of bullshit, often lying through their teeth, yet because they have the megaphone, every other voice is silenced. It’s nice to hear a little guy above their chatter.
The little guy won the week.