Uber has grow to be the unlikely chief of transparency on the subject of sexual assault.
All year long, ladies have accused highly effective males — from Harvey Weinstein, Invoice Cosby and Matt Lauer to their bosses and managers — of sexual assault. The motion has gathered such momentum that it is generated its personal hashtags: #MeToo and #TimesUp.
And ride-hailing big Uber acquired caught in the midst of it.
The startup was outed in February 2017 by former engineer Susan Fowler, who wrote a scathing weblog detailing a poisonous firm that OK’d sexual harassment. Then it was sued by 9 ladies alleging sexual assault by Uber drivers. Earlier this month a Newpaper24 report discovered that greater than 100 Uber drivers had reportedly raped, forcibly touched or kidnapped passengers.
Now Uber is making an attempt to alter course. In a serious reversal of its coverage, the corporate stated Tuesday that it is dropping all arbitration agreements it had with riders, drivers and staff over particular person claims of sexual assault or harassment. Uber additionally ended confidentiality provisions that prevented victims from talking out.
And Uber promised to launch — for the primary time — knowledge on sexual assaults that occur with its drivers.
“The final 18 months have uncovered a silent epidemic of sexual assault and harassment that haunts each business and each group,” Tony West, Uber’s chief authorized officer, wrote in a weblog put up Tuesday. “Uber isn’t proof against this deeply rooted drawback, and we consider that it’s as much as us to be an enormous a part of the answer.”
Uber isn’t proof against this deeply rooted drawback, and we consider that it’s as much as us to be an enormous a part of the answer. Tony West, Uber’s chief authorized officer
The transfer was extensively seen as a step, or no less than a half-step, in the proper path. The explanation for reservation: The corporate continues to be stopping folks from becoming a member of collectively in class-action lawsuits, which is among the methods these with out assets can pursue authorized actions on their very own and maintain firms accountable.
“Dropping the [arbitration] clause is a displaying of excellent religion, however it’s actually not sufficient,” stated Bryant Greening, of legislation agency LegalRideshare, which isn’t associated with the Uber lawsuit. “We want to make sure victims aren’t limited in any capacity regardless of the claims that are brought.”
The pressure began to mount for Uber after two women filed a lawsuit against the company in November. They alleged they were sexually assaulted by Uber drivers, in separate incidents.
Seven more women have since signed on to the suit, but none of them has been able to fully pursue a case against Uber through the court system. That’s because they unwittingly accepted arbitration agreements when they first used the app.
Millions of people worldwide now use the Uber app. The ride-hailing service is one of the largest on Earth, operating in 73 countries and covering most all of the US. Its drivers give 15 million rides a day.
When people first download the Uber app, they have to click on and agree to the company’s terms of service. Those terms say riders agree that legal disputes with the company have to be handled through private arbitration, and not public court. It also means they can’t be part of a class-action lawsuit with others who’ve gone through similar experiences.
The big change for now is that individual claims of sexual assault or harassment can be argued in public court. But Uber is still mandating that all class actions take place in private arbitration.
Arbitration agreements are common in Silicon Valley. Companies including Google and Facebook have similar arbitration clauses in their contracts with employees. Many apps also require users to agree to arbitration when they sign up.
But times are changing. In December, Microsoft was the first major tech company to end such agreements with its employees. And Uber is the first tech company to extend the offer to customers.
Uber’s main rival, Lyft, said Tuesday that it will also toss out arbitration agreements for passengers, drivers and employees around sexual assault and harassment claims (although, like Uber, Lyft isn’t allowing for class action suits). Lyft additionally said it will join Uber and release data on sexual assaults that happen with its drivers.
“The #MeToo movement has brought to life important issues that must be addressed by society,” a Lyft spokesman said in an email.
“Uber made the good decision to adjust their policies,” he added. “We agree with the changes and have removed the confidentiality requirement for sexual assault victims, as well as ended mandatory arbitration for those individuals so that they can choose which venue is best for them.”
Uber’s board of directors received a plea last month. It was a letter from 14 women who all say they were sexually assaulted by the company’s drivers. They asked the board to release them from their private arbitration agreements.
In the letter, several of the women detailed their personal experiences with Uber drivers. They range from allegations of rape to being locked in a car and forcibly groped to the driver masturbating during the ride. The alleged assaults took place across the US, including in Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Iowa.
“Silencing our stories deprives customers and potential investors from the knowledge that our horrific experiences are part of a widespread problem at Uber,” the women warned in their letter.
Preventing victims from proceeding together, on a class basis, shows that Uber is not fully committed to meaningful change.
Jeanne M. Christensen, attorney representing women alleging sexual assault by Uber drivers
Days later, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, wrote a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi echoing the womens’ petition.
“I challenge you to finally demonstrate how seriously you take the issue of sexual harassment and assault,” Blumenthal wrote. “Your company must lead by example and show that it values transparency and your users’ safety more than your company’s bottom line.”
Nine of the women who wrote the letter to Uber’s board are the same women who brought the lawsuit against the company. Jeanne M. Christensen, a partner at law firm Wigdor, is representing the women and said she’s pleased with Uber’s first “critical steps.”
But not allowing for a class-action suit is a problem.
“Preventing victims from proceeding together, on a class basis, shows that Uber is not fully committed to meaningful change,” Christensen said. “Victims are more likely to come forward knowing they can proceed as a group. This is the beginning of a longer process needed to meaningfully improve safety.”
Because these women can bring claims only individually, at least for now, they’ll have to file nine separate lawsuits and have nine separate trials. If it gets to that point.
The former Uber engineer Susan Fowler took to Twitter to commend Uber for dropping arbitration agreements however stated there’s nonetheless “far more work to do.” Together with not defending victims of different types of discrimination, the transfer additionally “does not permit victims to pursue class actions in open court docket,” she tweeted.
Uber says the case involving these ladies is the one pending class-action go well with towards the corporate on sexual assault claims — all others are particular person claims, it says. The corporate would not say what number of particular person claims have been introduced towards it.
However class-action fits are one of many methods actual change to firm security requirements occurs, stated Michael Rubin, a California lawyer with Altshuler Berzon, who focuses on class-action instances and is not concerned with the Uber lawsuit. That is as a result of not solely are particular person claims costlier for plaintiffs, in addition they run the danger of isolating victims.
“When you’re restricted to particular person reduction, you’ll be able to’t successfully treatment the mistaken,” Rubin stated. “It is going to have a chilling impact on the ladies’s capability to successfully vindicate their statutory proper to be free from sexual abuse.”
That is what this case boils right down to, the 9 ladies say. It is not about amassing financial damages for themselves, however about spreading consciousness and making Uber a safer platform for everybody else.
First printed Might 16, 11:28 a.m. PT.
Updates, 1:35 p.m.: Provides that Lyft is not permitting for sophistication motion fits; Might 17 at 5:37 p.m.: Provides Susan Fowler’s touch upon class-action lawsuits.
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