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Uber frees US victims of sexual assault and harassment from mandatory arbitration

Spandan Sharma
16th May 2018
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Ridesharing giant Uber has announced that it will no longer require its US riders, drivers, and/or employees to resort to arbitration to resolve claims of sexual assault and harassment. The company made the announcement earlier today, on the heels of a series of sexual assault allegations in recent months and a November 2017 class action lawsuit filed by nine American women accusing the company’s drivers of sexual assault. In March this year, Uber came under fire after records revealed that the company had tried to force the women to resort to individual arbitration.

Image: Uber

Under the new policy, victims of sexual assault and harassment will be able to choose how to pursue their claims – arbitration, mediation, or open court. However, there is a catch – the new policy only applies to individual claims, and not class action lawsuits. That means that the group of aforementioned women will have to resort to individual claims if they intend to sue Uber in open court. The company has also stated that the policy applies only to cases involving sexual assault and harassment; other cases, such as racial and gender discrimination complaints, will still be resolved through private administration.

Uber has also made two other promises in its announcement. First, sexual assault and harassment victims will no longer be subject to Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) or confidentiality clauses. According to Axios, this is to allow victims to share their stories without feeling like they’re being silenced while pursuing legal remedies. However, the terms of any settlement, such as Uber’s compensation for the victim, will still be kept confidential. Second, the company has also pledged to “eventually” release a report with data on sexual harassment and assault incidents that have occurred on its services.

While no specific timeline has been given for the report’s release, an Uber spokesperson told Axios that the company’s Chief Legal Officer Tony West hopes to publish the report by the end of the year.

In its press release detailing the change to the policy, Uber said, “maintaining the public’s trust, and earning back the respect of customers we’ve lost through our past actions and behaviour, is about more than new products and policies. It requires self-reflection and a willingness to challenge orthodoxies of the past.” This reflects the company’s efforts to change its policies under new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi who has pledged to resolve Uber’s long-standing work culture and environment issues.

However, one can’t help but notice that the new terms seem to apply exclusively to the United States. Of course, Uber users outside the US and its territories and mainland China are governed by a different set of Terms and Conditions made available by Uber B.V., a private limited liability company incorporated in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. However, there is no mention from Uber about how the victims of sexual assault and harassment governed by this separate mediation and arbitration policy will be affected going forward. For example, India, which has had its own major incidents of sexual assault and harassment by Uber drivers in recent months, appears to be excluded from the updated policy. What this means for the victims in such cases in India and elsewhere remains to be seen.

This is certainly a significant step in Uber responding to criticism of its policies, but there still remains plenty of room for improvement. Issues like gender, race, and pay discrimination continue to be governed exclusively by private arbitration, as do the huge numbers of Uber employees, riders, and drivers outside the United States. The policy change is only the first step; Uber still has a long road to go before it fully regains the trust and respect of its customers.

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