An Uber driver checks the company's app. The ride-sharing service is being sued for allegedly discriminating against passengers with disabilities. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

An Uber driver checks the company’s app. The ride-sharing service is being sued for allegedly discriminating against passengers with disabilities. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Advocates for the blind are accusing the rent-a-ride service Uber of discriminating against passengers with guide dogs, saying many Uber drivers refuse to take passengers with dogs and one locked a passenger’s service dog in the trunk.

“Uber is violating basic equal-access requirements under both the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and state law,” the National Federation of the Blind and a guide dog owner said in a suit filed last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, where the company is located.

Federal law requires taxis and other private transportation services to carry service animals. But the federation said it has learned of more than 30 instances in which Uber drivers across the United States have refused to transport passengers who are blind after arriving to meet them and discovering they had guide dogs.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In one instance, the suit said, a driver agreed by phone in May to pick up Jamey Gump and a friend at a pub and take them to Gump’s home in Menlo Park, Calif. But when the driver saw Gump’s dog, he shouted “No dogs,” cursed at Gump, ignored his explanation that the dog was a service animal, and sped away. The car bumped into Gump’s friend and nearly hit the dog, the suit said.

In March, the suit said, an Uber driver gave Leena Dawes a ride in Sacramento,Calif. but locked Dawes’ guide dog in the trunk and ignored her pleas to release the animal until they reached her destination.

In some cases, the suit said, Uber has charged passengers who are blind cancellation fees after its drivers refused to transport them. The company refunded the fees after the passengers filed written complaints, the suit said.

In response to the suit, Uber said the company requires its drivers to provide transportation to passengers who are blind and their guide dogs.

“The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options for all, including users with visual impairments and other disabilities,” the company said. “It is Uber’s policy that any driver partner that refuses to transport a service animal will be deactivated from the Uber platform.”

But the lawsuit said Uber has told passengers who are blind it has no responsibility for its drivers’ conduct because they are independent contractors, not employees. A separate lawsuit by Uber drivers, pending in San Francisco federal court, contends they should be classified as employees and accuses Uber of wrongfully denying them benefits.

Advocates for the blind notified Uber of their discrimination complaints in June and sought to resolve the issue through negotiations, but the company refused, the suit said.

“Our right to independent travel is unjustly jeopardized when Uber drivers refuse to transport or harass blind customers due to the presence of their service animals,” said Mary Willows, president of the National Federation of the Blind’s California affiliate.

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.