Fourteen women who claim their Uber drivers sexually assaulted or harassed them wrote to the company’s board last week to ask that their class-action lawsuit be allowed to go forward in an open court. According to a Bloomberg news report, the women said they were assaulted, groped and raped by their Uber drivers. One woman said her driver masturbated during the ride while another recalled waking up in the back seat of the vehicle as the driver was performing oral sex on her without her consent.
Forced Arbitration Prevents Class Action Lawsuits
The women sent their plea directly to Uber’s 11-member board as the company faces a deadline in court to respond to the women’s complaint against them. What’s Uber’s comeback? The company says the women agreed to closed-door arbitration when they signed up for the app. Arbitration would essentially move the fight to hold the company accountable behind closed doors and out of the public eye, thereby limiting the potential legal consequences. Uber has sought arbitration in other cases involving sexual violence against its passengers by drivers.
The letter from the women alleges that silencing their stories and depriving customers and potential investors knowledge of these horrible violations is part of the widespread problem at Uber. The women also point out in the letter that forced arbitration clauses like the one Uber has are under attack as part of the #MeToo movement. In December, Microsoft stopped asking employees to resolve sexual harassment complaints in forced arbitration.
Upholding Consumer Rights
Arbitration clauses have reared their heads all over the country and are not unique to Uber or the rideshare industry. They prevent people from banding together to bring class-action lawsuits whose role is to hold corporations accountable for unethical practices under the threat of major monetary damages. Under arbitration clauses, consumers with grievances are required to pursue their complaints individually and behind closed doors before a privately appointed judge. Needless to say, arbitration usually works in favor of the corporation as opposed to consumers.
As California class action attorneys, we hope Uber’s board does the right thing here and allows the women to pursue their class action complaint. This is the least they can do after what these women have been through. In addition to seeking monetary damages, the women are also demanding Uber take steps such as conducting better background checks so these types of incidents become rarer. These arbitration clauses should be altogether abolished so unethical corporations cannot hide behind them. Class action lawsuits are the last bastions when it comes to consumers exercising their rights and that right to justice should never be taken away.