Uber Eats courier wins payout with help of equality watchdog, after facing problematic AI checks

Published: 26 March 2024

An Uber Eats driver has received a financial settlement, following allegations that facial recognition checks required to access his work app were racially discriminatory, which led to him being unable to access the Uber Eats app to secure work.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) provided funding for the case of Pa Edrissa Manjang, who has worked as an Uber Eats driver in Oxfordshire since November 2019. He continuously experienced difficulties with Uber Eats' verification checks, which use facial detection and recognition software.  

In 2021, Mr Manjang was removed from the platform following a failed recognition check and subsequent automated process. Mr Manjang was told by Uber Eats that they had found 'continued mismatches' in the photos of his face he had taken for the purpose of accessing the platform.  

The EHRC and the ADCU were concerned by the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automated processes in this case, particularly how it could be used to permanently suspend a driver’s access to the app, depriving them of an income. It became clear that Uber Eats had not made Mr Manjang aware of the processes that led to his suspension from the app, nor provided an effective route to challenge this decision. 

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“I am pleased that Pa Edrissa Manjang was able to settle his case with Uber Eats, but he should never have had to bring a legal claim in order to understand the opaque processes that affected his work. 

“AI is complex, and presents unique challenges for employers, lawyers and regulators. It is important to understand that as AI usage increases, the technology can lead to discrimination and human rights abuses. 

“We are particularly concerned that Mr Manjang was not made aware that his account was in the process of deactivation, nor provided any clear and effective route to challenge the technology. More needs to be done to ensure employers are transparent and open with their workforces about when and how they use AI. 

“Every employer should take note of this, even major companies like Uber. When such companies rely on automation to help manage their staff they need to guard against unlawful discrimination.

Pa Edrissa Manjang said: 

“My case shines a spotlight on the potential problems with the use of AI, particularly for low paid workers in the gig economy who want to understand how decisions are being taken which affect their livelihoods. This marks the end of a long and difficult case. 

“I would like to thank the EHRC, my legal team at Bates Wells, and my union the ADCU for their support. I would also like to thank the Judges at the Employment Tribunal. It would not have been possible for me to challenge a very large corporation without the assistance of EHRC, the ADCU and my legal team.  

“I am sure the EHRC will use the learnings and experience of this case to move towards strengthening the rights and protections of workers in relation to AI, particularly ethnic minorities.” 

Zamir Dreni, App Drivers & Couriers Union said: 

As the pace of development of AI and machine learning tools in the workplace accelerates, trade unions are working hard to ensure that workers’ rights are protected. The ADCU particularly appreciates the support and attention given to this important case by the EHRC as Britain’s equality and human rights regulator.

Hannah Wright, Bates Wells, the lawyer representing Mr Manjang said:  

This has been a very important case. It is among the first to consider AI and automated decision making in the context of work and the potential for unfairness and discrimination. Sophisticated AI systems are increasingly becoming a part of how people are managed at work. This carries substantial risks, particularly where decision making processes are opaque and particularly in terms of equality. The current protections are inadequate and the process for challenging decisions involving AI is fraught with difficulty.

Paul Jennings, Bates Wells, the lawyer representing Mr Manjang said: 

AI has very rapidly become part of workforce management. If it is deployed in a way that lacks transparency and fairness, it will have a highly corrosive effect on trust. It is vital that any automated decision-making processes affecting peoples’ livelihoods are not opaque. Businesses using these systems must absolutely prioritise openness and accountability.

Notes to editors

  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission helped fund this case as part of our powers to provide legal assistance to victims of discrimination under section 28 Equality Act 2006.
  • The App Drivers & Couriers Union also helped to fund this case. 
  • Mr Manjang was represented by Hannah Wright and Paul Jennings at the law firm Bates Wells and by barrister Chris Milsom at Cloisters. 
  • Mr Manjang continues to work for Uber Eats. Although he was suspended from the app during 2021, his access was later restored and he started working for Uber Eats again. The process that led to his access being restored was never fully explained to him by Uber Eats.
  • Mr Manjang first brought his claims on the 1 October 2021. Uber applied to the Tribunal to have his claims struck out, or a deposit ordered for him to continue with them. This application was refused by the Tribunal after a hearing in May 2022 and largely confirmed after a further reconsideration hearing on 18 September 2023. As a result, the case was still in preliminary stages, showing the complexity of a claim dealing with AI technology.  
  • The final hearing was scheduled for 17 days in November 2024. 
  • As part of its 2023/2024 business plan, the Equality and Human Rights Commission committed to taking legal action where appropriate, to protect the rights of those who are subject to the unfair use of AI in recruitment and other employment practices. 

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