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Artificial intelligence and the risks it poses to discrimination claims

View profile for Rebecca Billinge
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Supreme Court landmark decision - Uber drivers and workers rights

Artificial intelligence is the development of computer systems which are able to perform tasks which would ordinarily require a human to do. This can be in a wide range of forms such as speech recognition, decision making, and visual perception. It is easy to see why this may be attractive to some companies and employers as it can reduce costs such as staff wages, and reduce the time taken for the completion of a particular task. However, it has been alleged that such, can in some circumstances, raise issues of discrimination.

In recent weeks, it has been reported that a number of employees had brought claims of race discrimination against Uber, alleging that they had been unfairly dismissed because of their malfunctioning face recognition technology. This is not long after the landmark decision from the Supreme Court which ruled that Uber drivers will now be classed as ‘workers’ rather than self-employed individuals.

It is alleged that Uber’s technology, (which is used to verify the identity of drivers and couriers), is not able to correctly identify people with darker skin tones. It is understood that some drivers had their Uber accounts terminated, because of the malfunctioning technology.

Artificial intelligence is very much a new and emerging concept and some may say that more research and testing is required in order to avoid technical glitches which could give rise to an unintentional claim such as those which is understood have been raised.

An employee may have a claim for race discrimination if they can show that they have been treated less favourably on the grounds of their race, nationality, ethnic origin, heritage or colour. This could potentially be proven by an employee/worker having their Uber account terminated, due to their face recognition software not correctly identifying them due to the colour of their skin. The law also provides protection against discriminatory conduct as a result of a perception that an individual is of a particular race, nationality, ethnic origin or heritage, even if the perception is incorrect.

The protection afforded by the Equality Act applies to every stage of the employment relationship i.e. recruitment, promotion, training and other opportunities, and dismissal.

This protection also extends to discrimination in the course of an individual’s day to day life as a consumer or service user.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against as a result of a protected characteristic, you may be able to bring a claim for discrimination under the terms of the Equality Act 2010. Alternatively, if you  require assistance with dealing with and responding to any complaint of discrimination which has been initiated against you, please contact our specialist discrimination team for further advice on 0161 696 6170.

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