Uber and Lyft both announced on Tuesday that the forced arbitration policies in their terms of service will no longer apply to sexual assault and harassment cases. From now on, the ridesharing companies’ employees, drivers, and riders who have sexual violence claims will be able to choose whether they want to address them in mediation, arbitration, or open court. The companies also plan to publish safety reports with data on sexual assault complaints that they receive through their platforms.
Uber was the first to announce the policy change early Tuesday morning in a blog post by its chief legal officer, Tony West. “Survivors will be free to choose to resolve their individual claims in the venue they prefer,” he wrote. “Whatever they decide, they will be free to tell their story wherever and however they see fit.” On that note, he added that plaintiffs will also be able to settle their claims without a confidentiality provision.
Lyft soon announced that it would follow Uber’s lead. “Today, 48 hours prior to an impending lawsuit against their company, Uber made the good decision to adjust their policies,” a spokesperson told Recode. (Uber faces a court-mandated deadline to respond to a class action lawsuit from 14 women who say they were sexually assaulted by their drivers.) “We agree with the changes and have removed the confidentiality requirement for sexual assault victims, as well as ended mandatory arbitration for those individuals so that they can choose which venue is best for them. This policy extends to passengers, drivers and Lyft employees.”
However, as Axios points out, the exemptions only apply to individual claims and not class-action law suits. The confidentiality provisions will also still apply to the terms of any settlement, including the financial details, though victims will still be able to share their stories.
Critics have long asserted that forced arbitration had allowed Uber to keep sexual violence claims behind closed doors. In March, the lawyer representing the 14 women filed a motion challenging Uber’s efforts to move the proceedings to arbitration. “Our clients deserve a trial,” she told the Guardian at the time. “The goal is to force Uber to acknowledge that this is happening and to do something about it.”
Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer who authored a viral blog post about the sexual harassment she experienced at the company, also wrote in an April New York Times op-ed, “Forcing legal disputes about discrimination, harassment and retaliation to go through secret arbitration proceedings hides the behavior and allows it to become culturally entrenched.”