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A lawsuit accusing ride-hailing service Uber of not properly serving blind customers has been resolved, with the federal judge who oversaw the case giving final approval to a settlement and fee award yesterday.
The US National Federation for the Blind sued Uber in 2014, saying drivers would frequently refuse to pick up riders who used service animals, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In April, the NFB and Uber reached a deal in which Uber would send reminders to drivers, using e-mail and popups, reminding them of their obligation to accept service animals. Uber also agreed to pay $225,000 so that the NFB could have blind riders test Uber.
But while Uber and the NFB were able to agree on the terms of the deal, a fight over legal fees dragged on. Lawyers representing the NFB asked for more than $3 million in fees, enhanced by a multiplier of 2.0. In their fees motion (PDF), the lawyers argued the sum was justified, since the litigation addressed several novel issues—including whether a transportation network like Uber is a “place of public accommodation” subject to the ADA.
NFB lawyers argued that the settlement gave blind persons and others who rely on service animals “nationwide access to what is so far the most important new transportation innovation of the 21st Century.”
After a hearing last week, US Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins authorized (PDF) $1.59 million in fees, as well as a multiplier of 1.5 “to fully award plaintiffs for the fair market value of their work in taking on this case.” That’s a total of $2.38 million.
Cousins noted that in a similar case, in which National Federation of the Blind sued Target to make its website more disabled-accessible, a judge allowed for a 1.65 multiplier for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.
Neither Uber nor lawyers for the NFB immediately responded to inquiries from Ars.
“We are pleased that this settlement has received final court approval, but strongly disagree with the ruling on plaintiffs’ motion for attorneys’ fees,” an Uber spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement to The Recorder, which reported on the final order yesterday. Uber is considering an appeal on the fees issue.
A lawyer representing the blind clients said was he was looking forward to working together with Uber on the matter of service animals but said Uber’s tone during the fee fight had been unfortunate.
“The idea that I would gear up and do extra work because I think a case is going to settle is bananas,” attorney Michael Bien told The Recorder.