Saturday, 17 November, 2018

Lyft drops arbitration requirement for sexual assault cases

Smith Collection  Gado  Getty Images FILE Smith Collection Gado Getty Images FILE
Kelvin Reese | 16 May, 2018, 12:41

The ride-hailing companies announced Tuesday they would eliminate the requirement of arbitration clauses for any employee, driver or rider who claims they have experienced sexual harassment or assault. 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.

Lyft is following in Uber's footsteps.

Previously, passengers agreed to arbitration when they signed up for Uber, as part of its terms of service. "But we have learned it's important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims". "However, the company decided in these personal and hard set of claims the company wanted to give survivors the choice to seek redress in the venue of their choice, whether that's mediation, arbitration, or open court".

Forced arbitration shields legal conflicts from public scrutiny and often requires a confidentiality agreement, silencing victims.

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".

"The last 18 months have exposed a silent epidemic of sexual assault and harassment that haunts every industry and every community", Tony West, Uber's chief legal officer, wrote in a blog post on Uber's website.

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The decision comes only two weeks after CNN concluded its investigation and reported its results, which discovered that at least 103 Uber drivers in the USA have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers in the past four years.

The upheaval in Uber's leadership was prompted in large part by one woman, Susan Fowler, who publicly shared her story about experiencing egregious sexual harassment at Uber and reporting it, repeatedly, to managers and human resources reps who dismissed her concerns and threatened retaliation. Riders, passengers, and employees in the USA will now have the option of taking the company to court, or going through a mediator where confidentiality is optional.

For a company with Uber's history, I'll believe it when I see it.

The move by Uber raises two questions: How far does this change in policy go toward repairing Uber's reputation, and what does this mean for other companies with arbitration clauses? Uber is shifting its stance after receiving an open letter from the NY law firm Wigdor LLP, which already has filed a lawsuit seeking to be certified as a class action representing women who allege they have been raped, sexually harassed or abused in other ways by Uber drivers.

Following the reporter's examination and the letter, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from CT, challenged Uber's use of forced arbitration and in a letter to CEO Dara Khosrowshahi "respectfully asked for" the business end the practice. (I deleted the app a year ago, after a driver found my phone number-through his trip history, I assumed-and repeatedly texted and called me.) Last month, Uber implemented a host of long-delayed safety features, such as an emergency-call button that connects a rider to a 911 operator and features real-time location data from the moving auto.

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