Uber changes course, will not push sexual assault victims into arbitration


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SAN FRANCISCO — Uber will no longer force customers, drivers or employees who claim they were sexually assaulted or harassed when using the ride-hailing service to pursue their cases behind closed doors, a move meant to make the company’s safety issues more transparent.

Previously, people with such claims were forced to take their claims to arbitration, a private legal framework that shields cases from public view. Victims who settled claims were also required to sign confidentiality agreements, effectively silencing them.

On Tuesday, Uber said it was changing those rules to allow its customers to choose their preferred course, which will now include open court as well as private mediation.

Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, said 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,” West wrote in a blog post.

When signing up for Uber, the company’s terms of service previously required riders to agree to settle any claims through private arbitration. Following Uber’s announcement, its closest competitor, Lyft, said it would also end forced arbitration and confidentiality agreements for passengers, drivers and employees.

Confidentiality agreements, however, did not stop a variety of sexual assault allegations against Uber drivers from becoming public. A recent CNN report found that at least 103 Uber drivers in the United States had been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers over the past four years.

Uber also announced its intention to release a transparency report sometime in the next year that will detail sexual assault reports and other incidents that happen to users of the app.

West, a former prosecutor who handled sexual exploitation cases, said the company has been working with more than 80 women’s groups and special advisers to figure out the best methodology for the report. Two out of three sexual assaults go unreported, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

Releasing a report is a “decision we struggled to make,” West said, “in part because data on safety and sexual assaults is sparse and inconsistent.”

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