Lyft settles DOJ lawsuit alleging violation of Americans with Disabilities Act

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 23: General view of pink lyft logo and sign on Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2020 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 23: General view of pink lyft logo and sign on Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2020 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)
Megan Rose Dickey

Lyft has agreed to settle a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice that alleges the ridesharing company discriminated against disabled people -- specifically those who use foldable wheelchairs or walkers.

One complainant, known as J.H. in the suit, alleged Lyft drivers denied giving him a ride on several occasions because of his collapsible wheelchair. As part of the settlement, Lyft has agreed to pay $42,000 to the four complainants and $40,000 to the U.S. Treasury.

Lyft is also now required to modify its wheelchair policy to clarify that drivers must help assist disabled people with wheelchairs, scooters and walkers. Lyft must also include information about its accessibility policies in the welcome email to new drivers, send quarterly reminders to drivers about the wheelchair policy and create an educational video about the wheelchair policy that highlights best practices for assisting riders.

If drivers fail to follow Lyft's wheelchair policy, they may be removed from the Lyft platform. Throughout the duration of the agreement, which lasts three yearsLyft must provide written updates to the DOJ every six months regarding its compliance with the agreement.

"We’re glad that through this agreement, we will continue improving our policies and making it easier for people with foldable wheelchairs and other collapsible mobility devices to get around using Lyft," a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch. "Lyft is committed to maintaining an inclusive and welcoming community, and we’re proud that many people with disabilities who were previously underserved by existing transportation options now use Lyft as a reliable, safe, and affordable way to get around."

Lyft has faced a number of accessibility-related discrimination lawsuits over the years. In the event that more lawsuits emerge, Lyft is now required to notify the DOJ within 30 days.

Competitor Uber has similarly faced its share of lawsuits pertaining to drivers discriminating against riders with wheelchairs. Both companies, however, have taken steps to rectify the problem. Last year, Lyft expanded its wheelchair-accessible vehicle service in New York while Uber has partnered with paratransit organizations to try to improve wait time for people with powered wheelchairs.

It's worth pointing out the fine line Lyft is walking with its drivers, who are currently independent contractors, despite legislation in California that says otherwise. Since the start of the year, gig worker rights groups have urged companies like DoorDash, Uber, Lyft and Instacart to abide by AB 5. AB 5, which went into law earlier this year, outlines what type of worker can and cannot be classified as an independent contractor.

The law codifies the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors.

According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in work of some independently established trade or other similar business.

Still, Lyft, Uber, Postmates, DoorDash and Instacart are funding a ballot measure that would seek to make it legal for them to classify workers as independent contractors.

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