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Does relying on consumer surveys lead to workplace discrimination?

When companies rely on customer satisfaction surveys to evaluate their workers, it can lead to discrimination. This is because consumers’ ratings are often infected by racism, ageism, sexism or anti-disability bias.

A recent lawsuit argues that Uber’s use of its five-star rating system when evaluating drivers leads to unlawful discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender and gender-related qualities.

The plaintiff, filing on behalf of a nationwide class of non-white drivers, argues that Uber knows that consumer biases infect the rating system but relies on it anyway to evaluate drivers.

One potential issue in the case is whether Uber drivers are employees or independent contractors. This is because independent contractors are generally not protected by Title VII. However, a new California law and a series of recent court decisions make it likely that Uber drivers are going to be considered employees.

Employers must deal with consumer discrimination

Assuming for the moment that Uber drivers are employees of Uber, the use of the five-star rating system might be considered discriminatory even if Uber itself doesn’t discriminate.

Under the system, Uber asks riders to rate drivers on a scale of one to five stars. When a driver’s star average reaches a certain low point, Uber deactivates the driver. The plaintiff in this case was deactivated after his rating dipped below 4.6 stars.

However, it is common for consumer surveys to be infected by bias. The plaintiff points to incidents, for example, where riders canceled after seeing his picture or asking him in a hostile manner where he was from.

According to the complaint, Uber has previously acknowledged the problem of consumer bias in the rating system. If it is found true that Uber knows of the bias, it could be held liable for intentional discrimination for using the biased ratings. This is because employers are required to intervene when their employees are targeted by illegal bias from customers.

Uber claims that the rating system contains measures to mitigate consumers’ bias. For example, drivers are invited to explain low ratings, and low ratings are not counted against the driver when they are based on uncontrollable issues like traffic.

Has your employer allowed customer bias to harm you?

If so, you may have a valid claim under Title VII or California law. Employers are not free to ignore customer bias when it harms employees. If you work for Uber, Lyft or another gig economy company, you may be legally an employee who is entitled to protection from your employer.

Leigh Law Group can help you evaluate your situation and determine if you have a valid discrimination claim.