On Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in response to mounting public pressure, Uber announced that it is ending its policy of mandatory arbitration for individual civil claims of assault and battery. However, the policy change does not include class actions—a move that legal experts say is problematic.
The announcement follows a proposed class action filed on behalf of nine Wigdor LLP clients alleging harm from sexual assault, rape, attempted kidnapping and other gender-related violence by their Uber drivers. After Uber attempted to force the case out of federal court and into private arbitration, these nine women joined with five other Wigdor LLP clients alleging similar claims and sent an Open Letter to Uber’s Board of Directors on April 26, 2018 asking to be released from the mandatory arbitration provision Uber claimed was enforceable.
That same day, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) wrote to Uber CEO Dara Khorowshahi, urging the company to “immediately release survivors of sexual assault from Uber’s arbitration provisions so that they may exercise their fundamental rights as Americans and pursue their complaints through the court system.” A CNN investigative report later revealed that at least 103 Uber drivers had been accused of kidnapping, sexual harassment, sexual assault and/or rape by their passengers.
The day before Uber’s response to the complaint was due in federal court, Uber published a blog post stating that it has learned “it’s important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims.” Despite this comment, on Tuesday—the exact same day it unveiled its new arbitration policy—Uber quietly filed a motion to compel to arbitration the other causes of action in the Complaint filed by the nine Wigdor LLP clients. Uber’s motion requests that the women be forced to file separate arbitration actions rather than proceed together. Uber also said it will object to the nine Wigdor LLP clients’ proposal to proceed in court on a class basis in connection with their civil assault and battery claims.
Several legal and tech experts have acknowledged that Uber’s updated arbitration policy appears to be a thinly-veiled attempt to repair its reputation, and that in order for meaningful change to occur, Uber should allow sexual assault victims to proceed in court as a class action:
Statement from Wigdor LLP Partner Jeanne M. Christensen:
“Class actions play a critical role in cases exactly like this one where women can band together and amplify their experiences rather than be sequestered for easier character assassination by Uber’s lawyers. We are not fooled by Uber’s slick attempt to divert attention away from its true goal of isolating our female clients and shaming them one by one in litigation by talking about lawyers trying to make money in class actions.”
“Under Pressure, Uber Drops Arbitration Requirement For Sexual Assault Victims”
May 15, 2018