Uber will no longer require individual passengers, employees or drivers who allege sexual assault or harassment to use arbitration, the company announced on its blog today.
It was just one of three changes announced by Chief Legal Officer Tony West, who said that it was part of Uber’s new strategy of “transparency, integrity, and accountability.”
Assault victims will also have the option to forgo a non-disclosure agreement as part of a settlement. And Uber will publish a “safety transparency report” within a year that includes data on sexual assaults and other incidents.
Previously, passengers agreed to arbitration when they signed up for Uber, as part of its terms of service. Other kinds of claims, like fraud or personal injury, will still need to go to an arbitrator. Some legal experts say that forced arbitration shuts consumers out of the justice system, by denying them the right to sue. Those alleging assault who wish to be part of a class action suit are still bound by the arbitration clause.
In November, law firm Wigdor LLP had proposed a class action lawsuit on behalf of women accusing drivers of sexual assault. (The full complaint is here.) At the time, a statement on the law firm’s website said that the women were “mislead by the company that they would be transported safely.”
Since then, calls for the end of forced arbitration for sexual assault survivors have intensified.
Two weeks ago, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi saying he was “extremely concerned,” adding, “I write to request that Uber immediately stop using forced arbitration agreements against victims of sexual harassment or assault.”
The court had given Uber until Wednesday to say whether it would require the women to submit their claims to arbitration. They now have the choice of arbitration, mediation or open court if they file suit individually.
Jeanne M. Christensen, the partner at Wigdor handling the case, said in a statement, “Congratulations to Uber for choosing not to silence survivors. Our hope is that Uber ending forced arbitration for victims of sexual assault will begin a process to reduce future suffering by women passengers. Uber has made a critical step in this direction, but preventing victims from proceeding together, on a class basis, shows that Uber is not fully committed to meaningful change. 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.”
A CNN investigation earlier this month found that at least 103 U.S. Uber drivers have been accused of sexual assault or abuse in the past four years. CNN found that “at least 31 drivers have been convicted for crimes ranging from forcible touching and false imprisonment to rape, and dozens of criminal and civil cases are pending.” The news organization culled its data from police reports and court records; there is no current, publicly-available data that gives the number of sexual assaults for any ride share company.
Uber says it has met with more than 80 women’s groups and recruited several prominent advocates as advisers on these issues.
Lyft, a rival car service, had similar terms of service requiring passengers to use arbitration. After Gothamist reached out to ask about the policy, a spokeswoman said that they "agree with the changes" Uber made and will do the same.
Here's Jennifer Vanasco talking about Uber on WNYC.