Consumer Law

14 women accusing drivers of sex assault ask Uber board to be released from arbitration

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Fourteen women sent a letter to the Uber’s board of directors Thursday requesting to be released from the arbitration provision in their consumer agreement to allow them to pursue a class-action lawsuit alleging Uber’s inadequate driver screening procedures led to the sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment and gender-motivated violence they experienced at the hands of their drivers.

The open letter was addressed to the Uber Technologies Inc. board of directors by women who write that confidential arbitration goes against Uber’s declared mission to help “make streets safer” and takes away a woman’s right to a trial by a jury of her peers, providing “a dark alley for Uber to hide from the justice system, the media and public scrutiny.” The plea comes as the ride-hailing company faces a May 4 deadline to respond to the women’s complaint against the company in court. Law360, Axios, ABC News and Bloomberg Technology had the story.

“Secret arbitration is the opposite of transparency,” the letter says. “Forcing female riders, as a condition of using Uber’s app, to pursue claims of sexual assault and rape in secret arbitration proceedings does not ‘make streets safer.’ In fact, it does the opposite. Silencing our stories deprives customers and potential investors from the knowledge that our horrific experiences are part of a widespread problem at Uber. This is not doing the ‘right thing.’ ”

The women share their stories of being assaulted, groped and raped by their drivers in the letter. One said her driver “jumped into the backseat, groped my body and forcibly tried to kiss me” when she tried to exit the vehicle. Another said her driver “pulled out his penis and masturbated during the ride” and saw him “on five separate occasions lingering in his car on the street outside of my apartment complex.”

New York City-based Wigdor Law initially filed the class action in November on behalf of two unidentified women, arguing that Uber put thousands of women at risk and put profit over safety. When Uber moved for arbitration, the firm added seven more women to the case. Jeanne Christensen, the lawyer for the women, says she will add another five women, according to Bloomberg Technology.

The women seek to represent a class of all individuals in the U.S. who were raped, sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by their Uber drivers dating back four years, according to Law360. They are seeking damages and implementation of safety measures by Uber.

“If Uber is the great force of change it claims, then you, as the board of the directors, should jump at the opportunity to make positive changes for women who order rides with Uber,” the letter says. “Our request to proceed with our case in an open, public forum, rather than behind the secret doors of arbitration, is just one such opportunity for Uber to ‘do the right thing.’ ”

Uber representatives did not respond to an ABA Journal request for comment. “Sexual assault has no place anywhere and we are committed to doing our part to end this violence,” Uber said in a statement reported by ABC News and Bloomberg Technology.

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