Women who say their Uber drivers sexually harassed and assaulted them are still fighting the company for the right to bring their class action lawsuit to court. The firm representing the women, Wigdor LLP, filed a legal brief yesterday to challenge Uber's arbitration policies, which continue to force many people with claims against the company behind closed doors.
"Uber duped the media and public when it claimed to allow Jane Does 1-9 access to court two weeks ago," Jeanne Christensen, partner at Wigdor LLP, told Gizmodo in a statement.
"At the same time that Uber was making its public 'announcement' about not forcing these victims to arbitrate assault and battery claims, its lawyers were busy filing a motion to compel to arbitration all of the other claims in the lawsuit. If successful, Uber achieves the result it wanted all along - to silence female victims' voices on a collective basis. Such a result also allows Uber to keep secret the data about the countless other incidents of sexual assault by Uber drivers."
A few months after the women first filed their class-action lawsuit against Uber, the company filed a motion against it. When more women were added to the lawsuit, Uber continued to enforce its mandatory arbitration, telling Gizmodo in an email that it "is the appropriate venue for this case because it allows plaintiffs to publicly speak out as much as they want and have control over their individual privacy at the same time".
By mid-May, the company seemingly had a change of heart, freeing all individual users from arbitration with regards to sexual harassment and assault claims. Before, riders were forced to settle all disputes in arbitration, or by a third party behind closed doors.
But despite Uber's announcement, the ride-sharing company still prohibited collective action and, as of this week, continues to double down on mandatory arbitration for all other claims. This is what prompted the firm to file its brief yesterday.
Uber's relaxed arbitration policy is a win for users, but as Christensen noted, it certainly isn't the most meaningful change the company could make.
"Uber has made a critical step in this direction, but preventing victims from proceeding together, on a class basis, shows that Uber is not fully committed to meaningful change," Christensen told Gizmodo when Uber first announced the policy change. "Victims are more likely to come forward knowing they can proceed as a group. This is the beginning of a longer process needed to meaningfully improve safety."
Lyft and Microsoft have also, like Uber, freed users and employees from arbitration for individual sexual harassment and assault claims. But to show that they are more than just bowing to public pressure, there's more sweeping and consequential changes these companies can make that would be in the best interest of their users and their workforce. Such as, for instance, eliminating forced arbitration altogether.