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Uber will now allow riders, drivers and employees to pursue individual claims of sexual assault in open court

The company will also publish a safety report of the cases of sexual assault reported to Uber.

Uber logo reflected in sunglasses NurPhoto / Getty

Uber has decided to waive forced arbitration for riders, drivers or employees who want to file a legal complaint against the company over claims of sexual assault.

That means anyone who claims they have been assaulted and wants to sue Uber can pursue their case in open court and request a trial by jury.

The company’s decision comes after a senator and 14 women who are suing the company wrote open letters to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi asking him to release all riders from their arbitration agreement.

As Uber’s terms of service exists today, passengers relinquish their right to pursue any claims against Uber in open court when they sign up as a rider. Employees and drivers, on the other hand, can now opt out of arbitration.

Passengers, however, will still be bound by an arbitration clause if they are suing the company over claims of anything other than sexual assault or violence.

“By making this announcement, we’re not saying that arbitration is bad; on the contrary, arbitration is an appropriate form of dispute resolution that is often more beneficial for the parties than going to court,” Uber’s chief legal officer Tony West told Recode when asked why this would only apply to alleged victims of sexual assault.

“But we decided that when it comes to this uniquely personal and difficult set of claims, we wanted to give survivors the choice of seeking redress of their individual sexual assault and sexual harassment claims in the venue of their choice,” he continued.

Uber is also not changing its stance on prohibiting riders from pursuing class action lawsuits against the company under this new arbitration agreement. The 14 women, who originally filed their lawsuit in November, are seeking class action status on behalf of all passengers who claim they were assaulted by their drivers.

“While this change won’t apply to class actions, we do think it impacts the vast majority of assault claims we see on our platform,” West said. “We’ve heard over and over from the dozens of advocacy groups we’ve spoken with that few experiences deprive an individual of control more than sexual assault or sexual harassment. And we’ve heard what’s most important is for us to restore some sense of control to survivors.”

“So, while these changes may not please everybody, we believe they represent big, bold steps forward that will ultimately help us all prevent sexual assault more effectively,” he continued.

In addition to allowing alleged victims of sexual assault to pursue their claims in open court, Uber will also waive any confidentiality requirement for those who settle their claims against Uber — save for the price of the settlement.

“But divulging the details of what happened in a sexual assault or harassment should be up to the survivor, not us,” West wrote in a blog post.

The company has also committed to publishing a safety transparency report and is calling on other players in the ride-share and transportation space to do the same.

Uber has yet to flesh out the details of exactly what this report will entail — including what time period it will cover — but it will include some subset of the numbers of sexual assault complaints the company has received.

A spokesperson pointed out that while the company errs on the side of believing sexual assault reports, it still has to filter through them to ensure that each is indeed a situation wherein a person was complaining of being attacked.

For example, in March 2016, internal documents that I obtained showed that a search for the term “sexual assault” in Uber’s customer support database returned 6,160 tickets. At the time, the company said that number was significantly overstated — Uber said it was actually 170 — and that the thousands of tickets may have been caused by “reports from riders who were making claims about sexual assault on other transport services, discussions about sexual assaults in the news, and reports about passengers who got into cars that were not Uber vehicles and were then sexually assaulted.”

West said he hopes the company will be able to finish working with advocacy groups like the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the National Network to End Domestic Violence on the report by the end of the year and publish the report one year from now. But it will undoubtedly be a long process to appropriately reflect those numbers and also create a system that other transportation companies can replicate.

“As significant as it is for Uber to take this step, greater change occurs if others also step up to shine a light on sexual assault,” West told Recode. “And, importantly, a significant impediment to identifying which strategies work best is that there is no common industry standard for reporting sexual assault incidents. Because of this, data on safety and sexual assaults is sparse, inconsistent and often unreliable.”

These announcements come ahead of a May 17 deadline to respond to a request to be released from arbitration by the women who are suing Uber because they allege they were assaulted by their drivers.

Uber was not alone in requiring its customers or employees to mediate their legal claims against the company in a closed forum. In fact, Lyft continues to require that its riders arbitrate their issues against the company.

It’s also a rampant practice across the tech industry that people like California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher are trying to end. With the help of Susan Fowler — the former Uber engineer and the author of a bombshell essay that led to a period of reckoning for the company — Fletcher introduced a bill that would prohibit companies from requiring employees to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment.

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