Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft will no longer require the arbitration of sexual assault or sexual harassment claims lodged against drivers, passengers or employees.
The announcement is a major policy change for the two ride-share services. Since the companies launched, they have sought to force legal claims into arbitration, whether through employment agreements or customer terms and conditions that users must agree to before using the Uber and Lyft apps.
Because arbitration is usually confidential and not part of the public record, the companies have essentially been forcing sexual assault and harassment survivors to keep silent. But now, amid the global #MeToo movement, Uber and Lyft will not stand in the way of lawsuits being filed in court or private mediation to resolve sexual misconduct allegations. And although the companies will no longer push arbitration, it remains a viable option.
Uber’s Chief Legal Officer Tony West said this about the shift in company mindset: “[M]oving forward, survivors will be free to choose to resolve their individual claims in the venue they prefer: in a mediation where they can choose confidentiality; in arbitration, where they can choose to maintain their privacy while pursuing their case; or in open court. Whatever they decide, they will be free to tell their story wherever and however they see fit.”
Policies Only Apply to Sexual Assault and Harassment
However, West cautioned that the policy change only pertains to sexual assault and harassment allegations. “It doesn’t go to all kinds of legal claims,” he reportedly stated. “We still are having, I think, an important conversation about whether or not this ought to be extended to different types of legal claims.”
Uber has also made it clear that it is only backing away from mandatory arbitration for individual claims – and not for class-action suits. The company says it will continue to try and prevent class actions being filed against it.
Some employment law attorneys view Uber’s class-action qualifier as a lack of commitment to the #MeToo movement because sex assault survivors are more likely to come forward as a group, such as in the Larry Nassar case, where hundreds of women joined forces to speak out on the sexual abuse perpetrated by the former Michigan State University physician.
No More Keeping Quiet
Because the outcome of an arbitration proceeding is generally kept secret, mandatory arbitration provisions serve to silence sexual assault survivors, who are not permitted to disclose the perpetrator’s identity and the suffering they endured. This is one reason why attorneys general from across the United States recently sent a letter to Congress stating that employers must stop using arbitration clauses to keep survivors quiet and to prevent them from pursuing their claims in court.
Companies also use non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to maintain silence. These agreements are typically used in the workplace and prohibit employees from publicly discussing anything involving their employment – including sexual harassment and discrimination allegations.
Meanwhile, when a sex harassment or discrimination claim is brought and an out-of-court settlement is reached, the agreement memorializing that settlement typically includes a confidentiality clause. This clause prohibits the discussion of the facts and circumstances of the settlement – once again silencing the survivor.
Time Is Up
Companies like Uber and Lyft have, for too long, silenced sexual assault and harassment survivors, primarily by using fine-print arbitration clauses in app service agreements and heavy-handed employment agreements.
But those days are long gone. #TimesUp.
The lawyers in the Sommers Schwartz Employment Litigation Group represent survivors of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and discrimination. If you have been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, then please contact us to discuss your legal rights and options.