Uber is allegedly silencing sexual assault allegations against its drivers — here's what to know about the case

KAREN FRATTI

March 21, 2018 8:19 am

One of the tell-tale signs that rape culture is alive and well comes when companies force accusers to settle their sexual assault allegations behind closed doors in arbitration and then sign non-disclosure agreements. But that doesn’t just happen in Hollywood or on Capitol Hill. Actually, nine women have brought a class action lawsuit against Uber for allegedly silencing their sexual assault allegations and forcing them to settle the issue in arbitration instead of an open court.

Arbitration is, according to the American Bar Association, a private way to settle disputes. A neutral party hears evidence and then decides who’s in the right. Although there are definitely times when it might be in someone’s favor to go to arbitration, it’s usually not in the best interest of employees or consumers — especially women — when they take this route, since arbiters tend to be very white, very old, and very male. What do they know about anything, right?

The thing is, all of us are actually bound to handle disputes via arbitration, whether it’s with Uber, Lyft, or other tech companies. Pretty much all of them have it written into their terms of service, which is why Uber is standing firm in settling these sexual assault cases in a closed boardroom somewhere instead of in front of a jury. Uber didn’t immediately respond to HelloGiggles’ request for comment, but a spokesperson told Gizmodo that the women in the class action lawsuit are allowed to at least speak publicly about the process.

“The allegations brought forth in this case are important to us and we take them very seriously. Arbitration is the appropriate venue for this case because it allows the plaintiffs to publicly speak out as much as they want and have control over their individual privacy at the same time,” they said. Basically, it’s a great way to keep things out of the news.

These nine women are intent on not letting that happen. They want a jury and a trial and all of our attention, which is fair. Jeanne M Christensen, one of the women’s attorneys, told The Guardian, “Our clients deserve a trial. The goal is to force Uber to acknowledge that this is happening and to do something about it.” Another attorney at Wigdor Law, the firm representing the plaintiffs, told Gizmodo that Uber’s claim about privacy was “entirely nonsensical and a clear attempt to shield its pervasive, easily-rectified wrongdoing from the public eye.” They added that the women are very in control of their privacy and “want to litigate their claims in federal court.”

Forced arbitration is something that perpetuates rape culture, plain and simple. When you settle things behind closed doors, even if there’s a clause letting the women tweet and talk about it, they’re less likely to make headlines and fewer women will know that they’re not alone if they’ve been attacked or harassed by a man. This is one of the main things the Time’s Up organizers are fighting against — settling things quietly, writing a check, signing a contract, and being done with it is essentially telling victims to shut up and be happy it’s over. It’s telling drivers that they can get away with doing what they want. That’s just not going to fly, especially when we’re hopping in vehicles with drivers that the company is supposed to vet for us so that we can be safe.

One of the plaintiffs from Miami allegedly carried an intoxicated passengerinto her home and raped her, according to the complaint. A 26-year-old woman fom San Francisco alleges that an Uber driver pushed his way into her apartment building and then groped her. A Los Angeles woman alleges that she was assaulted when she fell asleep in the backseat. Another masturbated in the drivers seat, saying, “I thought this was what you wanted, ” to the plaintiff, according to the Daily Beast.

The women’s lawsuit blames Uber for their role in the alleged assaults throughout:

“Uber has done everything possible to continue using low-cost, woefully inadequate background checks on drivers and has failed to monitor drivers for any violent or inappropriate conduct after they are hired. Uber has created a system for bad actors to gain access to vulnerable victims.”

Just this weekend, police arrested a Boston Uber driver for assaulting a passenger in a parked car. Simply, this happens often enough for Uber to take a stronger position when it comes to protecting female Uber passengers. If they can’t vet their drivers or train them to prevent sexual assault, the least it could do is allow plaintiffs to tell their story in a court and let a judge and jury decide. Forcing women into arbitration to protect the company image is not a good look.