In this Nov. 15, 2019, file photo, an Uber office is seen in Secaucus, New Jersey. Credit: Seth Wenig / AP

Last 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, said 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 rideshare 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, said 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 said.

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.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.