Uber Eats tackles app profile issue that outs trans drivers

Uber Eats Tackles App Profile Issue That Outs Trans Drivers
Lynne Sladky

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2019, file photo, a restaurant advertises Uber Eats in Miami. A civil rights group in Kansas said Tuesday, June 22, 2021 it has warned the food delivery service in a letter of a problem with profiles its app that it contends puts transgender drivers at risk.

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A civil rights group warned Uber Eats that its app profiles place transgender drivers at risk of harassment and violence, prompting the company to apologize Tuesday to a Kansas man and to resolve issues within the app that outed him.

The move came after American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas released on Tuesday morning a letter it had sent the day earlier to the food delivery service on behalf of Laine Repic, a 41-year-old transgender man in Topeka, Kansas, who has been driving for the company since April.

The ACLU of Kansas contended that Uber Eats has forced Repic to have his app profile display his legal name, which he no longer uses and which does not match his male gender presentation — effectively outing him as transgender. It noted that Repic has experienced harassment and ridicule as a result when he drops off food to customers and has made him fearful for his safety.

“Having to, like, drive around with that name following you everywhere from customers it was nerve racking and it was scary and we shouldn’t have to be put in that position — especially when it was such a simple fix,” Repic said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Repic said he reached out to the ACLU because he needed someone who would have his back and Uber didn’t seem to support him.

“While nobody was physically, violently attacking me, these microaggressions they eat at you over and over and over again… I shouldn’t have to tell my life story and I shouldn’t have to be forced back into the closet because of that. It wears on you, it’s draining, it’s tiring, it’s demeaning because it’s like you are not being taken seriously. Having to fight for your own identity, it absolutely takes a mental toll on you. And this was my breaking point,” Repic said,

In an emailed statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday afternoon, Uber apologized to Repic for the difficulties he faced as he tried to make changes to his profile within the app — which it said have now been resolved.

“We recognize that for transgender and non-binary drivers and delivery people, the name on their ID does not always reflect their true identity,” the company said. “That’s why we recently announced they can choose to display their self-identified first name, without requiring the display of their legal name.”

The company added it was working to further improve its systems, and has set up a fund to help drivers and delivery people cover the cost of updating their name and gender on state and federal ID’s.

Repic and the ACLU learned of the company’s statement after the AP read it them during an interview. It was not immediately known if the San Francisco-based company later reached out to Repic personally.

“I’m glad they did this and hopefully they will get those systems in place,” Repic said. “It shouldn’t have taken all this to get there.”

Repic said he had previously tried unsuccessfully to update his driver profile so it shows his correct first name and pronouns. Repeatedly he contacted the company through messaging on the driver app as well as emails and phone calls. He has been given the run-around or no response at all, said Sharon Brett, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas.

“In addition to possibly violating state and federal law, forcing transgender UberEats drivers to deliver under their dead names is bad policy,” the ACLU wrote. “It needlessly places transgender drivers at risk of harassment, degradation, and violence.”

The ACLU said that for many people obtaining a legal name change can be a long, difficult and expensive process.

Gabriel Arkles, senior counsel for the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said some employers have been moving in the “right direction” but still have a long way to go since the U.S. Supreme court in a landmark 2020 ruling held that the Civil Rights Act protects employees against discrimination because they are gay or transgender.

“This issue brings out some of the differences between saying a company treats people equally and actually creating conditions for people to have equal access to employment… To really achieve the promise of the Supreme Court victory, we need to make sure that the actual practices of companies like Uber Eats are changing,” Arkles said.