Uber suspends driver after Santa Clarita woman alleges racist interaction

Pamela Williams holds her phone displaying messages from an Uber driver. Austin Dave/The Signal
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Uber, the international ride-sharing app company, suspended a Santa Clarita driver this week over reports of racism, a company spokesman said Tuesday night.

The response came in reaction to a story posted on social media by a Santa Clarita resident who said she was the recipient of rude and racist behavior by an Uber driver.

Pamela Williams was waiting for a ride Sunday afternoon to go wine-tasting with her sister at a Lancaster winery, she said.

The driver reportedly approached Williams from the opposite side of the road she was expecting to see him, and he immediately became agitated after Williams called the driver to flag him down.

After arguing with Williams over whether she was where she was supposed to be, she said the driver told her to essentially find another ride.

“So I hung up the phone, and I didn’t cancel it, and then he text me, right away… “‘I’m not coming back, I don’t want to take you. I only take white peoples (sic),’” she recalled.

“So I was stunned,” she said. “It took my breath away a little bit.”

She didn’t want to cancel it because she didn’t want to get to get charged for the ride, she said, but then received another message from the driver to cancel it because he was at breakfast with his family.

This was after she was sent texts from the driver that she later shared with The Signal that described her as a “cheap pool rider,” adding that he likes “white peoples.”

It wasn’t her first experience with racism, she said, but most troubling for her was the nature of it.

“I can’t believe he put it writing — that was weird,” she said. “That’s what bothered me, I think; he was so brazen to put it in a text.”

Pamela Williams

Williams also was disappointed over Uber’s initial reaction to her claim, which was what she described as a canned “robo-response” that included a $5 refund.

A response from Uber on Tuesday night didn’t address specifics of the situation but noted the company has taken action while it investigates the claim.

“Uber does not tolerate any form of discrimination,” according to a statement issued Tuesday night by Andrew Hasbun, a spokesman for Uber. “We have been in contact with the rider to offer our support and apologize for her experience. The driver’s access to the app has been removed while we continue to look into this incident.”

Uber officials also referred to The Signal to the company’s Community Guidelines, which cites a policy that prohibits discrimination.

While numerous commenters on Williams’ original post called for Uber to take responsibility, legal liability and any possible repercussions for the ride-sharing, app-based company would hinge on a number of factors, according to business, corporate and franchise law attorney Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky and Associates, who answered questions from The Signal regarding a hypothetical scenario similar to what Williams described on social media.

One of the key questions, which the courts have yet to resolve, is whether Uber drivers are legally considered independent contractors or employees, he said.

Another factor to consider in these types of cases where an allegation is made is whether a company is aware of a history of such behavior, e.g. other allegations of other racist interactions.

“(This type of discussion is) always going to be a matter of proof and it’s also going to be a matter of damages,” Kanowsky said, describing the determinants in whether a hypothetical situation similar to Williams’ could lead to a lawsuit. “That’s going to be the whole question: Is there going to be any actionable damages.”

Williams’ post on the Santa Clarita Community Facebook page drew more than 400 comments by Wednesday morning, and included an outpouring of support that left Williams grateful for being a part of such a supportive community, she noted in a post update:

“I want to thank everyone on here for all the support you’ve given,” she wrote. “I’ve lived here for 38 years and have never been prouder of our community. Thanks for having this discussion.”

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