Uber pivots from forced arbitration for sexual assault victims
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.
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
of sexual assault and harassment that haunts every industry and every
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.
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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.
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.”
The past 12 months have been a period of widespread change at Uber. After
just 8 weeks on the job, our CEO Dara Khosrowshahi
a new mantra to employees: “We do the right thing, period.” Accomplishing
that requires three key elements: transparency, integrity, and
… [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.
“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, PR Daily readers?