Uber, Maryland Fingerprints and Discrimination


Just three days after the Washington Post’s editorial board declared “Uber and Lyft’s arguments against fingerprinting make little sense,” a Washington, DC area news station aired a story in which it informed Uber that an active Maryland driver was awaiting rape charges.

For the second time in two months, evidence pertaining to an alleged sexual assault by an Uber driver in Maryland was captured on videotape.

How did Uber’s background-check process overlook this driver’s pending rape charges? Its private background checks don’t automatically provide updates like government-conducted, fingerprint-based background checks do. This is an issue which arose again and again in the recent Maryland Public Service Commission hearing on fingerprints.

“There are three major areas of concern,” said Maryland PSC Director of Transportation, Christopher Koermer, in laying out staff criticisms of Uber’s background checks, “[Uber’s] and Lyft’s processes for ensuring that the applicant is not providing false identifying information;…the limitations on the time period covered by a review of the applicant’s record; and…the lack of criminal activity updates.”

File Uber’s latest Maryland/DC area background-check fiasco under #3: lack of criminal activity updates.

Uber executive, Rachel Holt, published a letter in the Washington Post reiterating the company opposes fingerprint background checks because they are discriminatory against minorities. This claim—which Uber has repeatedly used to freeze opposition—was pointedly called untrue by the San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorneys suing Uber for false advertising involving its background checks.

Two days before Holt’s letter published, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson publicly challenged Uber to release its hiring numbers to gauge the company’s level of diversity. Re-challenged, actually. Jackson has made this request before to no avail.

Jackson is requesting information about Uber’s diversity policies, inclusion practices and the demographics of its board of directors and executives.  Jackson is also requesting information about the percentage of Uber hires between 2014 and 2016 who were African-American or Latino.

Orson Aguilar, head of The Greenlining Institute, echoed Jackson’s concerns: “Uber has been suspiciously quiet on their diversity data and we believe that the company is ashamed to release their poor data.”

So, what do Uber’s background checks and perceived lack of diversity have to do with each other? Juxtaposed, the two threads illustrate how Uber’s argument against fingerprinting is simply politically expedient.

Last year Massachusetts State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry—who is the daughter of Haitian parents—introduced legislation requiring fingerprint-based background checks for Uber drivers in Massachusetts.

Dorcena Forry expressed pointed skepticism of Uber’s professed concern for minority discrimination:  “Let’s look at their leadership team, let’s look at the staff, let’s look at the board,” said Forry. “When reporters asked, what was the answer? Crickets. They know they don’t have black and Latino people.”