Uber pivots from forced arbitration for sexual assault victims

The company announced an end to potentially stifling legal practices for individuals alleging sexual assault or harassment from employees, drivers or other riders.

Uber is making some major changes to regain consumers’ trust.

On Tuesday, the ride-hailing company announced that it was ending its mandatory arbitration clause for those that allege sexual harassment or assault from Uber employees, drivers or other riders.

CNN reported:

The change comes two weeks after CNN reported the results of its investigation, which found at least 103 Uber drivers in the United States who have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers in the past four years. The drivers were arrested, are wanted by police, or have been named in civil suits related to the incidents. It was the first time that numbers have been put to the issue.

Previously, upon signing up for Uber’s service, Uber says users agreed to resolve any claims on an individual basis through arbitration. The practice, which has been challenged in lawsuits, helped the company keep the issue quiet, according to critics. Lyft, an Uber competitor, has a similar terms of service that says users will agree [to] resolve claims through arbitration.

In a press release published in Uber’s newsroom, the company’s chief legal officer, Tony West, wrote:

Every day, Uber connects 15 million trips around the world. At that scale, our service ultimately reflects the world in which we operate—both the good and the bad. And it’s clear that sexual violence remains a huge problem globally. 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.

… Arbitration has an important role in the American justice system and includes many benefits for individuals and companies alike. Arbitration is not a settlement (cases are decided on their merits), and, unless the parties agree to keep the process confidential, it does not prevent survivors from speaking out about their experience.

But we have learned it’s important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims. 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.

 

Uber is also lifting its confidentiality provisions and non-disclosure agreements in its settlements with sexual assault victims, so that “survivors will be in control of whether to share their stories.” The company has also pledged to publish a safety transparency report that includes sexual assault data and information on other incidents that occur.

To help make the initiative possible, Uber talked with more than 80 women’s groups and added advisors who include Cindy Southworth, executive vice president of National Network to End Domestic Violence, and Ebony Tucker, advocacy director of National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

Quartz reported:

The legal overhaul puts Uber, which a year ago was regarded as one of the most toxic workplaces in Silicon Valley, at the forefront of a movement to change how sexual harassment is handled in corporate America.

… Binding arbitration agreements, which have individuals forfeit their right to sue in court, are ubiquitous in the technology industry. They typically go hand-in-hand with nondisclosure agreements (NDAs); together, the two legal provisions ensure that disputes are kept quiet and confidential. These agreements can help companies avoid costly, protracted legal disputes but they also tend to protect bad behavior. In complaints involving sexual misconduct, arbitration and nondisclosure agreements often have a chilling effect: Technically, you can still bring a complaint to court, but the agreements enable the company to argue that the case was subject to binding arbitration, and a judge would likely agree. That often forces victims to remain silent, and prevents them from warning others about the alleged harassment.

The announcement comes more than a year after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post alleging rampant sexism within the company, which quickly plunged Uber into a PR crisis.

The move is also Uber’s latest to repair its reputation. The company has titled its PR moves over the last year as its way of “moving forward” and heading “in a new direction.”

West wrote:

The past 12 months have been a period of widespread change at Uber. After just 8 weeks on the job, our CEO Dara Khosrowshahi introduced a new mantra to employees: “We do the right thing, period.” Accomplishing that requires three key elements: transparency, integrity, and accountability.

… [M]aintaining the public’s trust, and earning back the respect of customers we’ve lost through our past actions and behavior, is about more than new products and policies. It requires self-reflection and a willingness to challenge orthodoxies of the past.

CNN reported:

“We think it is very, very important to allow survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment the control and agency that was, frankly, stripped from them in that incident,” Uber’s chief legal officer, Tony West, told CNN in a phone interview. West added, “I want to thank (CNN) for the reporting that you’ve done on this issue.”

Despite repeated requests, the company has yet to agree to an on-camera interview with CNN.

What do you think of Uber’s announcement?

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