Advocates are calling for ride sharing company Uber to make its drivers undergo compulsory discrimination training, after two recent incidents where passengers were refused service.
One involved a blind woman with a guide dog, and the other involved two gay men during Sydney’s Mardi Gras.
“These cases clearly show that some Uber drivers are not aware of discrimination laws, and what their legal obligations are when it comes to picking up passengers,” Miles Heffernan from Discrimination Claims said.
The blind woman and her guide dog
Rachel Leahcar, who is legally blind, shot to fame in 2012 as finalist on the first season of The Voice Australia.
She was on her way to a show at the Fringe Festival in Adelaide with her grandmother and her guide dog Ella, when she tried to get into an Uber.
“I started taking her harness off and I hear the dreaded words that every legally blind person is so filled with fear to hear, ‘No you can’t bring your dog in here’,” she told ABC Radio.
“I explained to [the driver] that this is a guide dog and she has to come with you because she’s an assistance dog.
“He said ‘no, no, no, no, I won’t take the dog’.”
Ms Leahcar said she told the driver that it was against the law to refuse entry to an assistance dog, but he was more worried about keeping his car clean.
“I said ‘look it’s against the rules and against the law, you have to take her, it’s your job’,” she said.
“He said ‘no, no, no, it’s too expensive to clean the car’.”
Mr Leahcar said the incident left her in tears.
Mr Hefferan, who is Litigation Director at Discrimination Claims, said it is illegal to deny entry or a service to a blind person and their guide dog.
“The Disability Discrimination Act says that you cannot treat someone with a disability or an impairment less favourably than someone who is able-bodied – and that includes people who are accompanied by an interpreter, or who use a wheelchair or guide stick or hearing aid, or those who use the assistance of a guide dog,” he said.
“Vision impaired people and their dog must be given access to shops and restaurants and cinemas, and offices – and buses and trains – and yes, they must also be allowed in taxis and Ubers.”
Read more >> What is impairment discrimination?
Kicked out for being gay
Gay man Ryan Ottey said he and his friend Aaron Brown went public with their story after they were kicked out of an Uber for being gay – just a day after the Sydney Mardi Gras.
According to Ottey, the pair were sitting in the back of the car when Brown put his head on Ottey’s shoulder, and kissed his forehead.
The driver abruptly stopped the vehicle on the busy Eastern Distributor motorway, and told the two to get out.
“The driver immediately turned around and said, ‘Not in my car, I’m not driving you anymore, get out of my car,’” Brown told Nine News.
“We were just dumbfounded and thought it was a joke so we questioned him and asked why.
“He just repeated himself and said, ‘I can’t drive you anymore, this is my car and I’m not driving that’ – talking about us.”
Ottey filmed part of the incident which he later posted on Facebook.
“You don’t want to take us? Why?” Ottey asks the driver in the video.
“I don’t want to take you, you can get another car,” he said.
“Well, get fu*ked then,” Mr Ottey says.
Writing on Facebook, Ottey said he found the incident “humiliating, degrading and totally disrespectful”.
“Despite it being the weekend of celebrating all things LGBT, some are not so accepting and open,” Ottey wrote.
Mr Heffernan said he was appalled by the incident.
“This is outrageous, and a blatant case of sexuality discrimination – which is against the law,” he said.
“You cannot treat someone unfairly because of their sexual orientation – clearly something this driver did not understand.”
Read more >> What is sexuality discrimination
Uber needs to introduce discrimination training
Mr Heffernan believes Uber needs to take more responsibility for the actions of its drivers.
“It’s time Uber stepped up and did something about this problem – all their drivers should be given formal and proper discrimination training, so they understand the rules and their obligations under the law – not just some two minute multiple choice quiz,” he said.
“All other employers are held vicariously liable if a member of their staff engages in unlawful discrimination, and Uber shouldn’t be any different.”
What Uber says
An Uber spokesperson said in a statement that the company “does not tolerate discrimination” and they were investigating the incident involving Mr Brown and Mr Ottey.
“Our community guidelines expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and make it clear to driver-partners this behaviour can result in them losing access to the Uber app,” the spokesperson said.
In response the Rachael Leahcar incident, another Uber spokesperson said drivers were advised of their legal obligation to transport passengers with assistance animals.
“As explained in Uber’s community guidelines, driver-partners who engage in discriminatory conduct can lose access to the driver app,” the spokesperson said.
“If this is the first report against the driver, he or she must undergo additional education and score over 90 per cent on a test to demonstrate they understand their legal obligations to riders with assistance animals.
“Any further incidents of this nature may result in permanent loss of access to the Uber driver app.”
If you have experienced discrimination based on your sexuality or a disability or impairment, you may be entitled to compensation.
For help and advice, please call our specialist team at Discrimination Claims on
1300 853 837
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