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Judge: Blind Falmouth Woman's Discrimination Lawsuit Against Uber Can Proceed To Court

FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2019, file photo is an Uber office in Secaucus, New Jersey, USA. Ride hailing giant Uber says it’s giving U.K. drivers benefits after losing a yearslong court battle to prevent them from being classified as “workers.” The company says drivers will now get the minimum wage, pensions and holiday pay, after the U.K.'s top court ruled that drivers should be classed as workers and not self-employed. The union behind the case said drivers should also be paid for time logged in to the Uber app and waiting for rides. Experts said the company may have to limit the drivers on its platform to afford the changes. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Seth Wenig
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AP file
In this Nov. 15, 2019, file photo is an Uber office in Secaucus, New Jersey, USA.

This week an independent arbitrator ordered Uber to pay more than $1 million to a blind San Francisco passenger for illegally discriminating against her when its drivers refused to give her and her guide dog rides on 14 occasions. The company has been the subject of similar discrimination complaints, including one here in Maine.

A Falmouth woman, who is blind, says she and her trained service dog were refused a ride from an Uber driver in Portland in 2017. Patricia Sarchi, backed by the Maine Human Rights Commission, filed suit against the ride share giant.

That lawsuit is pending, but late last month, a judge ruled that Uber could not compel Sarchi into arbitration rather than bringing her case to court.

Sarchi's attorney, Kristin Aiello of Disability Rights Maine, says the decision is notable because Uber believes it is exempt from both the Maine Human Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"So, for example, a small taxi company in Maine with one vehicle is subject to these laws. And an international company like Uber is saying, 'Nope, sorry, we're exempt from the laws in Maine because we're just an app company. We're not a public accommodation.' And we can't get into that if the claim is arbitrated," she says.

An attorney for Uber did not respond to a request for comment and it's unclear whether the company will appeal.

The company had maintained that when Sarchi signed up for its rideshare app she agreed to settle any dispute through arbitration.

But Sarchi said she was never presented with any terms or conditions and she never agreed to them. The court found that it could not establish that a valid contract was ever formed.