Uber Finally Eliminates Policy Silencing Sex Assault Victims

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“The company has learned it’s important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims.”

 

In an attempt to combat the culture of silence around sexual violence, Uber has announced a major policy change for its U.S. operations: it will not push assault victims into arbitration anymore.

This move, which is meant to make the company’s safety measures more transparent, came just a couple of weeks after a CNN investigation revealed at least 103 Uber drivers in the United States have been accused of subjecting their passengers to sexual abuse in last four years.

It was the first time a numerical figure of such drivers was disclosed– who were either arrested, wanted by police, or named in civil suits.

This week, the company announced it will allow the customer to use their preferred course of action in regard to dealing with cases of sexual harassment. From now on, the victims will no longer be under any sort of compulsion to pursue their cases behind closed doors or take their claims to arbitration that shields the legal work from the public view.

Previously, once a person signed up for the Uber’s services, they effectively agreed to resolve all claims through arbitration. In fact, the victims were also required to sign confidentiality agreement essentially equivalent to silencing them.

Such a practice was challenged several times in lawsuits as it wrongfully helped the company keep the issues, which needed most attention, under cover.

But now, the ride-hailing service aims to allow victims of sexual violence – including riders, drivers and employees – to choose where they want to settle their claims of sexual harassment or assault– be it arbitration, mediation or open court.

Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, said in a blogpost titled “Turning the lights on,” the company has “learned it’s important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims. Whatever they decide, they will be free to tell their story wherever and however they see fit.”

Describing sexual violence as “a huge problem globally,” he continued: “The last 18 months have exposed a silent epidemic of sexual assault and harassment that haunts every industry and every community. Uber is not immune to this deeply rooted problem, and we believe that it is up to us to be a big part of the solution.”

 

An original lawsuit against the company was filed in November 2017 when women wrote a letter to Uber's board “detailing the accounts of allegations and urging the company to remove its arbitration clause.”

In the wake of the updated policy of rideshare company, Jeanne Christensen, a partner at New York based law firm Wigdor LLP that filed a class action lawsuit against Uber last year on behalf of women, described the move “as a critical step to reduce future suffering by women passengers.”

West, who used to work as a prosecutor handling sexual exploitation cases, announced the company was working with more than 80 women’s groups and special advisers on a transparency report aiming to give an overview of cases of sexual assault the users of the app incurred.

Since last year, Uber has taken numerous measures to build its good-will in the public, either by airing commercials aimed at regaining passengers’ trusts or incorporating new safety measures, like the ability to share tracking information with trusted contacts or an emergency 911 button within an app.

Banner Image Credits: REUTERS/Toby Melville

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