By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - Uber Technologies Inc must defend against a lawsuit accusing the popular ride-sharing service of discriminating against blind people by refusing to transport guide dogs, a federal judge ruled.
In a decision late Friday night, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins in San Jose, California, said the plaintiffs could pursue a claim that Uber was a "travel service" subject to potential liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The judge also rejected Uber's arguments that the plaintiffs, including the National Federation of the Blind of California, lacked standing to sue under the ADA and state laws protecting the disabled.
Uber was given 14 days to formally respond to the complaint. The company and its lawyers did not immediately respond on Monday to requests for comment. The NFB and lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to similar requests.
Worth an estimated $40 billion, Uber said it offers its mobile phone taxi-hailing service in more than 270 cities and geographic areas in 56 countries, and can charge varying prices based on demand.
But the San Francisco-based company has faced complaints around the world over how it pays drivers, treats passengers and ensures safety.
In the discrimination case, the plaintiffs said federal law requires operators of taxi services such as Uber to carry service animals for blind riders but that it knows of more than 40 instances in which Uber drivers refused.
They cited two instances in which Uber drivers allegedly yelled "no dogs" at riders, and another where an Uber driver allegedly refused a blind woman's plea to pull over once she realized he had locked her guide dog in the trunk of his car.
In seeking to dismiss the case, Uber said the individual plaintiffs were required to arbitrate their claims.
Uber also said it was "on the cutting edge of expanding accessibility" for the disabled, and that claims it failed to accommodate blind people with service animals had no merit.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Ted Botha)