Uber drops arbitration for sexual assault victims

James Marshall
May 15, 2018

Starting immediately, customers with assault claims against Uber drivers will no longer be forced to pursue their cases through arbitration. That means victims who wish to file lawsuits about harassment will still have to do so individually, and will still not be able to bring a case on behalf of many plaintiffs.

It's a huge about-turn for the company, which until now has silenced victims by insisting on mandatory arbitration and confidentiality provisions.

The company says the change is an attempt to bring "transparency, integrity, and accountability" to the way it handles workplace complaints.

"We think it is very, very important to allow survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment the control and agency that was, frankly, stripped from them in that incident", Uber's chief legal officer, Tony West, told CNN in a phone interview.

In April, 14 women who have accused Uber drivers of sexually assaulting them wrote a letter to the company's board, urging it to waive the arbitration agreement and allow them to proceed with a lawsuit in open court.

Uber is now facing a class action lawsuit in the United States for poor driver vetting that has led to a series of sexual harassment incidents, including rape.

Last month, Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer who authored a 2017 viral blog post about sexual harassment she endured while working there, penned an op-ed for the New York Times on how to terminate such behavior. Subsequently, co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick left in June and was replaced in August 2017 by former Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

Uber was ordered by Colorado's public utilities commission to pay an $8.9 million fine after regulators found that dozens of drivers were operating there despite having criminal histories.

After several high-profile scandals, Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi, who took the top job in August previous year, has been unveiling several safety measures to restore Uber's brand and image. Critics say forced arbitration shields predators and promotes a culture of silence. A bill called the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment, proposed late a year ago, has been introduced in both houses of Congress.

"Divulging the details of what happened in a sexual assault or harassment should be up to the survivor, not us", Uber said.

Previously, upon signing up for Uber's service, Uber says users agreed to resolve any claims on an individual basis through arbitration.

Arbitration clauses and nondisclosure agreements have always been business-as-usual in corporate America, but sentiment has begun to shift.

"They know where the wind is blowing here", Rheingold said. Along with the ending of forced arbitration agreements, Uber also says that it plans to release a report about the sexual harassment and assault incidents that occur during use of its services, yet no date for that report has been announced.

Uber last month introduced new safety measures in its mobile app including a 911 emergency button and a feature letting riders inform friends about their planned Uber trips.

There is no publicly available data for the number of sexual assaults by Uber drivers or drivers of other rideshare companies.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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