Uber recently released an extensive report detailing sexual harassment and assault claims received by the company in 2017 and 2018. Needless to say, the report has generated shock in the industry.
For example, in 2018, Uber reported 3,045 sexual assaults occurring during its rideshare program, according to The New York Times. Out of those assaults, 235 claims were for rape, 280 were for attempted rape, and 1,560 were for groping.
Uber’s assault number has risen by four percent from the previous year, creating alarming concern for Uber executives and users of the rideshare program. Although Uber drivers were victims in some of these cases, the company’s recent crime report indicated that 92 percent of victims were riders, not drivers.
Although these statistics are disturbing, Uber attempts to put these crimes into perspective based on the company’s size and impact. For example, in its report, Uber notes that there are no reports of safety incidents for 99.9 percent of rideshare trips. In other words, reports of assault or other safety incidents only occur in 0.1 percent of rides. Out of more than 1.3 billion rides in the United States alone, 0.1 percent isn’t that many, according to the company.
However, Uber doesn’t present a full picture when it comes to sexual assault. For example, Uber’s crime incident report only includes five categories of crime:
- Nonconsensual kissing of a nonsexual body part
- Attempted nonconsensual sexual penetration
- Nonconsensual touching of a sexual body part
- Nonconsensual kissing of a sexual body part
- Nonconsensual sexual penetration
The report does not address incidents, such as requesting or demanding sex or verbal sexual assaults.
In light of these disclosed crimes, Uber has recently taken steps to improve the safety for both riders and drivers by working with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, increasing the size of its safety team internally, and setting up a hotline for sexual assault. Despite proactive steps to remedy these events, Uber has been knee-deep in litigation and high-level terminations over previous sexual harassment and assault claims.
Let’s looks at some of these instances that have made the spotlight.
UBER’s Timeline of Sexual Harassment and Assault Claims
Uber has had a rocky, ongoing issue with sexual harassment and assault, both within its corporate walls and on its rideshares. In 2018, CNN reported that 103 U.S. Uber drivers were accused of sexual abuse or assault within four years. Let’s look at some detailed events:
The first public complaint of sexual harassment at Uber came not from a rider, but an Uber engineer. On February 19, 2017, Susan Fowler posted an in-depth description of sexual harassment allegations on her personal blog, bringing Uber’s hostile work environment to CEO Travis Kalanick’s attention.
To investigate these claims, Kalanick hired former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, both partners at the law firm Covington & Burling, along with the law firm Perkins Coie to investigate the claims. Additionally, Uber appointed Arianna Huffington, Liane Hornsey, and the company’s associate general counsel, Angela Padilla, to the board of directors to provide additional assistance in the investigation.
In June of 2017, Uber fired twenty of its employees after investigating over 200 staff complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, and bullying, going back as far as 2012. Additionally, some of Uber’s top executives exited their roles at the company, including its chief marketing officer, chief financial officer, senior vice president of engineering, and the president of business in the Asia-Pacific region.
Also in June, former Attorney General Eric Holder released his recommendations for the company after his investigation into claims of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. In his report, Holder recommended reallocating Kalanick’s responsibilities, that the company adopts a zero-tolerance policy for substantiated discrimination and harassment, and that senior leaders be held accountable for their actions or inactions. Further, Holder recommended that the company develop clear policies and procedures on workplace relationships as well as emphasizing diversity within its ranks.
The day after the report was published, Kalanick took an indefinite leave of absence, claiming that he needed time off to grieve the recent passing of his mother. On June 21, 2017, Kalanick officially stepped down as Uber’s CEO at the request of five prominent company investors. Kalanick remains on the board of directors.
A class-action lawsuit filed in California alleged that Uber created a system of access for sexual perpetrators to thousands of “vulnerable victims” in the United States since the company’s inception in 2010 due to lax background check policies. The class-action case, having begun with just two plaintiffs, grew to nine women who maintained that they were sexually assaulted, raped, or kidnapped by Uber drivers while using the rideshare service. The plaintiffs, in this case, further alleged that Uber drivers had attacked thousands of women since the company’s inception in 2010.
During the suit, Uber filed a motion to “force these women into confidential arbitration,” according to plaintiff attorney Jeanne Christensen, which would prevent the public from learning more about the case and its eventual outcome.
Uber, on the other hand, claimed that arbitration was ideal in this type of lawsuit, as it gives the plaintiffs a forum to address their grievances while maintaining their privacy. And, unbeknownst to most Uber riders, at the time, Uber’s terms of service, which riders agree to when using the rideshare service, mandated arbitration.
In May 2018, four women recounted their stories of sexual harassment and assault at the hands of Uber drivers on a national news program. For example, Addison Hoover claimed that she called for an Uber ride from her boyfriend’s house to her sister’s apartment. During the trip, which should have only taken approximately 13 minutes, the driver drove her to his home and then raped her after he forced her into his house. Another woman, Stephanie Nam, said that at the end of an Uber rideshare in July 2017, her driver hopped in the back seat with her claiming, “I just need two minutes with you, baby.”
The details of a $10 million court settlement were made public in another class action against Uber. This time, however, the plaintiffs were current and former employees of the company. In this case, 56 plaintiffs alleged that they were subjected to harassment and discrimination while working as Uber engineers, with each plaintiff receiving approximately $34,000 from the settlement. It was estimated that the remainder of the class, amounting to 483 people, would each be paid an average of $11,000 based on their harassment claims.
After reading about the ongoing legal issues Uber has faced, you might be wondering what you can do if you’ve experienced sexual assault or harassment, either at the workplace or on rideshare.
Let’s first look at your right to sue.
Victim’s Right to Sue
But how do you approach these situations legally? Do you participate in a criminal case brought by the government against the perpetrator or do you sue for monetary damages, as described above? Let’s take a further look at your legal options.
Criminal Prosecution vs. Civil Litigation
Because a sexual assault is an intentional act, it can be addressed either with criminal charges or in a civil lawsuit. For criminal proceedings, the state controls the legal process, meaning that the district attorney brings a case against the perpetrator, and if found guilty, the accused may serve time in jail. As a victim of a crime, you may be called as a witness.
However, if you suffered personal injuries during a sexual assault, you may also bring civil action against the perpetrator, suing the defendant for damages. If the perpetrator is facing criminal charges for the same crime that you want to pursue in civil court, the criminal case must conclude first before you proceed with your lawsuit.
In a civil action, you have control of your case. You and your attorney will determine how the case proceeds, which evidence to collect, and how to go to trial. If you are successful with your lawsuit, the defendant must pay you a financial recovery based on your injuries. The defendant does not go to jail.
If you’ve been injured as a result of an assault or if you have experienced harassment on-the-job, you should discuss your options with a skilled attorney.
Contact The Marrone Law Firm, LLC For Legal Assistance Today
Veteran litigator and television guest commentator Joseph M. Marrone, Esquire, is dedicated to getting clients the recovery they deserve, whether it’s from sexual harassment or assault. If you believe you have been sexually harassed or assaulted either in the workplace or while using a rideshare service like Uber, please contact us.
You can reach attorney Marrone at 215-732-6700 or 866-732-6700.