Uber will no longer force mandatory arbitration for passengers or drivers who allege they were sexually assaulted or harassed, a move the company believes will change the culture of silence around sexual violence.
Written into employment contracts, forced arbitration waives a victim’s right to file a class-action lawsuit, sue, or appeal. Opposed by employees and civil rights groups, the procedure is used by companies to quickly settle disputes and keep matters from being publicized. Since the arbitrators who settle the claims are private, typically former judges, this controversial practice is also a cost-saving measure. For victims, it greatly limits their ability to resolve disputes.
Uber will now allow victims of sexual violence, including drivers, riders, and employees, to choose how they want to resolve their claims, whether it be in mediation, arbitration, or in open court.
The ride-hailing giant also announced two other related policy changes. Survivors will no longer have to sign a confidentiality provision or non-disclosure agreement that prevents them from speaking out about their experience.
“Whether to find closure, seek treatment, or become advocates for change themselves, survivors will be in control of whether to share their stories,” Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, said in a blog post titled “Turning the lights on.”
Lastly, as part of its renewed focus on transparency, Uber will publish a safety report with data on sexual assault and other incidents. The company, which has been accused of hiding the scope of the problem, claims it was a hard decision to make because there is no industry standard for reporting the data to the public. It is now working with 80 womens’ groups and industry experts to create a “taxonomy” for categorizing incidents and hopes other companies will add their own data.
The announcement comes two weeks after CNN found at least 103 Uber drivers in the U.S. have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing passengers in the last four years. At least 31 drivers have reportedly been convicted of crimes ranging from forcible touching to rape, CNN found.
Uber was recently involved in a high-profile case when a former engineer, Susan Fowler, detailed a rampant culture of sexual harassment within the company. Earlier this year, she joined California lawmakers to introduce a state bill that would ban forced arbitration. Her disturbing account sparked a year-long crisis for Uber that resulted in an exodus of executives and the forced resignation of founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.
Since Dara Khosrowshahi took over, Uber has made massive changes to its policies and image. Shortly after coming on board, he wrote a post outlining Uber’s new cultural norms and introduced its 180 days of change. As part of the campaign, Uber strengthened its driver screenings and committed to re-running criminal background and motor vehicle checks every year. It also released new features that let riders share live trip information with trusted contacts and an upcoming emergency button will communicate a car’s location to a 911 center.
In March, Khosrowshahi had a brief exchange on Twitter with Fowler, where he said he’d consider ending forced arbitration. “Hi Susan! 1. I’m trying and our company is bought in! 2. I will take a look at your suggestion – I will take it seriously but we have to take all of our constituents into consideration. 3. Would love to meet and talk in person vs twitter. 4. Thank you for what you’ve done,” he wrote.
Uber isn’t the only company to scrap the practice. Microsoft abandoned it late last year and said sexual harassment victims would no longer need to settle cases privately.