Uber ends mandatory arbitration for sexual assault, harassment claims

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According to some media reports, Uber was accused of trying to force women who say they were sexually assaulted by drivers to resolve their claims behind closed doors rather than in the courts, a move that critics say silences victims and shields the company from public scrutiny. Uber said the changes won't unwind previous settlements, but will apply to all future complaints, effective immediately.

In April, 14 women who have accused Uber drivers of sexually assaulting them wrote a letter to the company's board, urging it to waive the arbitration agreement and allow them to proceed with a lawsuit in open court.

The policy change comes after a recent CNN investigation focusing on the assaut and abuse accusations against drivers.

After several high-profile scandals, Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi, who took the top job in August past year, has been unveiling several safety measures to restore Uber's brand and image.

Similar to nondisclosure agreements, arbitration agreements have individuals forfeit their right to sue in court and keep disputes confidential. Subsequently, co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick left in June and was replaced in August 2017 by former Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

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But ending forced arbitration is not enough for the victims of sexual harassment, assault or rape, says Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor LLP in New York City and one of the lawyers representing the women passengers.

A day after Fowler's report went public, Uber hired Eric Holder, a former United States attorney general under president Barack Obama, to investigate allegations of sexual harassment. Last year, sexual-harassment claims toppled dozens of powerful men, from Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and television host Charlie Rose to several prominent venture capitalists. "This is the beginning of a longer process needed to meaningfully improve safety". The ensuing #MeToo movement has fueled efforts among lawmakers to to revise the conventional wisdom on how to handle sexual harassment complaints.

CNN also contacted more than 20 police departments to obtain data on complaints that involved Uber drivers and sexual assault. Ms. Fowler publicly challenged Mr. Khosrowshahi to scrap the forced arbitration agreements on Twitter. As with the arbitration change, this will apply to cases now pending and cases moving forward.

In November 2017, two women in California filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that Uber's "woefully inadequate background checks" had created a platform that exposed thousands of female passengers to "rape, sexual assault, physical violence, and gender-motivated harassment". "Arbitration is the appropriate venue for this case", an Uber spokesperson said at the time.

Under its terms of service, Uber previously required individuals who brought sexual assault and harassment allegations to go into arbitration - a controversial practice, because it deprives victims of the opportunity to bring their cases to trial.

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