#N12BK: Uber ends policy of forced arbitration for sexual assault claims

Wednesday, 16 May, 2018

The company will allow allegations of sexual assault and harassment to be filed in open courts, instead of its terms of service barring the claims and locking victims into an arbitration hearing, the San Francisco based company announced on Tuesday. The provisions are usually in the fine print - and most people who sign the agreements don't know they have signed away their right to sue.

In addition to only being able to pursue claims against the firms through internal arbitration, riders weren't allowed to even talk publicly about assault incidents if they got money from the firms.

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, CNN found.

Rather, Uber will enable victims of sexual violence, consisting of riders, motorists and staff members, to pick the location where they wish to pursue redress of their unwanted sexual advances or attack claims, whether that's arbitration, mediation or open court.

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. "Whatever they decide, they will be free to tell their story wherever and however they see fit".

The changes governing sexual misconduct come a month after Uber announced it will do criminal background checks on its US drivers annually and add a 911 button for summoning help in emergencies.

The pressure on Uber to change its policy included an open letter that the 14 women in the class-action suit sent to the company's board of directors last month. New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said he is committed to changing the company's culture to have a new emphasis on accountability and earning trust. And when survivors settle cases with Uber, the company will no longer require them to remain silent about what happened to them as part of the deal, he added. "This policy extends to passengers, drivers and Lyft employees".

The move comes amid the #MeToo movement, in which women have come forward with accounts of sexual harassment, assault and workplace mistreatment.

Uber announced Tuesday that its new policies would include the publishing of "a safety transparency report that will include data on sexual assaults and other incidents that occur on the Uber platform". She says Uber had fought hard, until very recently, to keep the women's claims under wraps. In fact, there is no data to reliably or accurately compare reports against Uber drivers versus taxi drivers or limo drivers, or Uber versus buses, subways, airplanes or trains.

Uber writes arbitration has an important role in the American justice system and hopes the move does not prevent survivors from speaking out about their experience. "Uber is like most other companies in that regard", West says.

Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer whose blog post drove Uber to address sexual harassment within the company's corporate workforce, is fighting on the workplace issue more broadly in California.