It was supposed to be a fun night out but the Uber ride to get there turned ugly when the driver hurled a racial slur at Helin Turk’s friend, who’s Black — calling him the N-word.
“I was shocked,” the Toronto university student told Go Public. “I was saying, ‘How can you even say that?’ Then he told me to shut up when I was defending my friend.”
Turk, 22, complained and sent Uber the video, then repeatedly followed up asking what the company was doing about it, and if the driver was still with the ride-hailing company.
She says — instead of answers — she got charged $282 on her credit card for damage allegedly done to the driver’s car.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “I didn’t damage a [side] mirror and it’s ridiculous to charge me out of the blue like that two weeks later.”
On its website, Uber has a detailed zero-tolerance policy on racism and discrimination. It says customer support agents get special training on handling cases like this. It also says it’s made its reporting system easier.
But the company failed to “walk the talk” in this case, said Colleen James, CEO of Divonify, a company that provides equity, diversity and inclusion training for individuals and businesses.
“The problem that started everything was never addressed [with the passengers]. Instead, the company was quick to impose this $300 charge,” James said. “I mean, who’s the perpetrator and who’s the victim here?”
Uber never told Turk what action, if any, it was taking and never asked to speak with her friend. It later told Go Public it suspended the driver from the app as soon as it heard about the incident, saying it then completed an investigation “following a review of the full, unedited version of the video by our specialized safety team.”
But asked when, exactly, it suspended the driver — Turk had to report him several times (via phone, email, the app and Twitter) because, she says, the company had not responded — Uber refused to provide details.
It’s also not clear if the driver has been suspended permanently.
James questions what kind of investigation Uber actually did, since it didn’t contact the victim, Turk’s friend.
“I mean, it’s clear racism, right? There’s no two ways about it,” James said. “They didn’t communicate with the person who was affected by the behaviour. And that is where the problem lies.”
Turk’s friend tells Go Public he’s disturbed by what happened. He asked us not to use his name, saying the focus should be on Uber.
‘You’re cursing at me and I’m still not mad’
It all started when Turk and her friend were heading out to meet a group of people in downtown Toronto on March 19.
They hired an Uber to get there under Turk’s account.
Turk says she hit record on her phone after the driver began getting aggressive and swearing — demanding they get out of his vehicle before their trip was over. There was a lot of traffic and the ride was taking longer than expected.
They refused, saying there was no safe place to exit the vehicle and that they’d already paid for the trip.
The driver had by that time, she said, clicked on the app indicating he’d dropped them off at their destination when he hadn’t.
“It’s OK, Helin. He’s being unreasonable,” her friend says near the beginning of the recording. “I don’t know why he’s getting all mad. Nobody called him any names, nobody cursed at him.”
He then says to the driver: “You’re cursing at me and I’m still not mad, so I’m just asking you to please drop us off where we want to go…. You have somewhere else to be, don’t you?”
That’s when things got nasty. The driver tells Turk’s friend to “shut the f–k up.” He then swears again and uses the N-word.
Turk first reported it in a call to Uber the next day, providing the video by email.
Over the next few weeks she followed up, hoping that would spur the company into action.
“They said they were investigating. But what were they investigating? They just needed to watch the video,” she said.
Her friend says the Uber rep “seemed attentive … like they were going to take action.”
That $282 charge came on April 1. Uber didn’t send an estimate for repairs, only a photo and the driver’s claim that Turk caused the damage.
Uber didn’t refund the money until after hearing from Go Public.
“I don’t see how that is proof,” she said of the photo. “It’s just a picture of a mirror and that could be another car. And even if that was the driver’s car, it could be because he crashed somewhere.”
James is surprised Uber took the driver’s word about the mirror, and then penalized Turk without addressing the problem that started it all.
“It wasn’t until the media was involved that the company was clear about suspending the driver,” she said. “That’s what we need to think about.”
James says it’s not too late for Uber to show it’s committed to its own policies.
“They should be apologizing to the other passenger and, if training is needed, that’s another thing. They need to stand by the policies that they have created and ensure this doesn’t happen again,” she said.
Go Public asked Uber why it didn’t contact Turk’s friend and why it charged Turk for the mirror damage, but the company didn’t answer.
Uber tells Go Public it “does not tolerate any form of racism,” and those who use the platform are required to follow its community guidelines, which says racial comments and slurs are never allowed.
Employment lawyer Barabara Green says Uber is obligated to create safe conditions for its passengers. And though investigations into racism can take time, the video of this incident would likely expedite the process.
Uber’s policies say nothing about informing passengers of any action it is taking, but Green says the company may want to change that.
“Legally there may be different obligations,” she said. But “as a passenger, I would be very traumatized by that event and would expect it to be taken seriously and [have it] escalated as quickly as possible — and I would expect to know the outcome.”
This isn’t the first time Uber passengers have complained about racism — although it is the first time a video has surfaced.
In 2016, a Toronto woman said an Uber driver assaulted her and was being racist when he told her Pakistani Muslim women should “just keep quiet.'”
Then in 2020, again in Toronto, a Black passenger said she was called the N-word by an Uber driver, and called on the company to do more to address anti-Black racism.
On its website, the company says Canadians have taken 500 million Uber rides over the last ten years.
Last year, Uber added anti-racism commitments and anti-racism material to its website that says: “We believe everyone has the right to move freely and safely and to feel respected on our platform.”
In the latest case, Turk says she doesn’t think Uber would have refunded the damage costs if she hadn’t contacted Go Public. She says she’s still hoping the company will do the right thing and apologize to her friend.
“I’m not a person of colour, but I’m still not going to let someone take advantage of someone else…. He’s my friend. I can’t turn a blind eye on this, and no one should,” she said.
Her friend recently reached out to Uber himself, but has yet to hear back.
Go Public reached out to someone with the same name as the driver for comment, but didn’t hear back. CBC decided not to name the driver.
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