Uber Ends Forced Arbitration for Sexual Assault Accusers
Uber will no longer require mandatory, closed-door arbitration in passengers' claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment by the ride-hailing company's drivers, its chief legal officer announced Tuesday.
"We have learned it’s important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims," Tony West, chief legal officer for Uber, said in a statement. "So moving forward, survivors will be free to choose to resolve their individual claims in the venue they prefer: in a mediation where they can choose confidentiality; in arbitration, where they can choose to maintain their privacy while pursuing their case; or in open court. Whatever they decide, they will be free to tell their story wherever and however they see fit."
Previously, the ride-hailing company's policy — as stated in its app's terms and conditions — had been to force all passenger sexual assault and harassment claims against its drivers into mandatory, closed-door arbitration. Under the provision, accusers could speak out but the legal proceedings would be confidential.
Uber also announced that it will no longer require confidentiality provisions or non-disclosure agreements from assault survivors. "Divulging the details of what happened in a sexual assault or harassment should be up to the survivor, not us," West writes. "Whether to find closure, seek treatment, or become advocates for change themselves, survivors will be in control of whether to share their stories."
Finally, the company said it will also include its platform's incidents of sexual assault and harassment in a "safety transparency report." West says Uber struggled with this decision, "in part because data on safety and sexual assaults is sparse and inconsistent." But the company decided to track its own assault and harassment statistics after meeting with "more than 80 women's groups" and recruiting several advisors from high-profile anti-assault advocacy groups.
A CNN report from earlier this May found that at least 103 Uber drivers had been accused of sexual assault or harassment in four years.
After Uber's announcement on Tuesday, competitor Lyft also announced similar changes ending its forced arbitration policy for assault and harassment claims and stopping confidentiality agreements as a contingency of settling the claims.
The changes comes shortly after Uber was under fire from women passengers who had been assaulted or harassed by their drivers while using the app. Fourteen women sent a letter to Uber's 11-member board at the end of April detailing their assaults and demanding that they be voluntarily released from the company's arbitration provision.
“Secret arbitration is the opposite of transparency,” the women tell the board in the letter. “Forcing female riders, as a condition of using Uber’s app, to pursue claims of sexual assault and rape in secret arbitration proceedings does not ‘make streets safer,'” they write, quoting the company’s own claim to the public that the ride-hailing app “help[s] improve access to transportation, and make streets safer.”
The 14 women also argued in the letter that since the advent of the #MeToo movement last year, many large companies have been ditching forced arbitration agreements in sexual harassment and assault cases in favor of more transparent legal options.
Earlier this spring, Uber announced other additional safety measures, including annual criminal background checks for its drivers, the ability for a passenger to share a ride location with up to five trusted people and an emergency feature that immediately shares a ride's location with 911. The company also recently launched a new pilot safety measure that obscures riders’ exact pickup and drop-off locations from drivers’ logs, showing only a general area instead, which would potentially help stop the drivers returning to drop-off sites to harass former passengers.
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