A Maine judge has ruled that a Falmouth woman with impaired vision can take the ride-sharing app Uber to court over a claim that it discriminated against her by refusing to allow her guide dog in the vehicle when she was picked up for a ride.

Uber had asked the judge to rule that the case would have to go to arbitration.

Kristin Aiello, the woman’s lawyer, argued against such a ruling and said Uber might have been able to argue that it was not covered by Maine and federal anti-discrimination laws if the case had gone to arbitration. That would not be the case in court.

The dispute began in 2015, when Patricia Sarchi of Falmouth was seeking a ride home after an appointment in Portland. She had someone use her phone to contact Uber for a ride, but when the driver showed up, he refused to take Sarchi’s guide dog.

Sarchi filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission. Uber argued it was not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act because its ride-hailing service provides no physical space, and its drivers are independent contractors, but the commission sided with Sarchi in a 2019 ruling.

When subsequent settlement talks with Uber went nowhere, Sarchi filed suit in Maine Superior Court, her attorney said. Uber argued that the terms and conditions on its site require that any disputes be settled by binding arbitration.


But Superior Court Justice Thomas R. McKeon ruled last month that Uber could not prove that Sarchi had “reasonable notice” of those terms and conditions, which were listed on the same web page where a user enters payment information.

McKeon said a user on that page is focused on entering payment information and a “done” button is located just above the section where a credit card number is entered.

“As soon as the user enters the user’s credit card number, they are likely to look up, see the ‘Done’ button, click it, and the screen is gone,” McKeon said. Nothing on the page links the “done” button to accepting the terms and conditions, he said, or directs the user to the terms and conditions listed lower on the page.

Uber has argued that it is simply an app that connects riders to drivers. Because it doesn’t actually operate the ride portion of the business, it has argued, it isn’t responsible for a driver refusing to take a guide dog in the car.

Attempts to contact Uber’s lawyer were unsuccessful and it’s not clear if the company will appeal McKeon’s ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. There has been no schedule set for how the case proceeds from here.

Sarchi’s case is believed to be the first of its kind in Maine. But similar suits have been filed elsewhere.

Last month, a blind woman in San Francisco was awarded $1.1 million from Uber in a similar case.

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