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Lyft was served with seven sexual assault lawsuits on Aug. 1. Plaintiffs in each case are alleging they were raped or assaulted by their Lyft drivers and still charged for their ride–even after they reported the incidents to the company.
In the lawsuits, four of the women allege that they were raped by their drivers, and three others say they were sexually assaulted. In addition to the rape and sexual assault allegations, some of the plaintiffs experienced sexual harassment and stalking. In each case, Lyft collected a fee for the rides that resulted in the harm of the plaintiffs. The cases state that Lyft’s corporate management has “failed to implement the most obvious and straightforward safety procedures in order to address the growing problem of sexual assault” perpetrated by Lyft drivers.
In a statement to the Daily Dot, Lyft said safety is its priority.
“The safety of our riders and drivers is fundamental to Lyft,” the statement read. “We do not tolerate harassment or violence on our platform, and such behavior can and does result in a permanent ban from our service.”
According to Levin Simes Abrams LLP, the San Francisco law firm representing the seven plaintiffs, Lyft does not have a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment and assault. Rachel Abrams, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, told the Daily Dot that Lyft does not take complaints of sexual assault seriously.
“Lyft’s generic response to ‘I was raped by my rideshare driver,’ is: ‘We’re sorry to hear you had a bad ride. We’re going to look into this,'” Abrams said. “Then usually the next day, (the plaintiffs) will get still an email–rather than a call in response–saying, ‘We’ll credit your ride for the $8.’ And that’s in response to an email saying, ‘I was sexually assaulted or raped.’ It’s quite insulting to our clients.”
Meghan McCormick, another attorney at Levin Simes Abrams, told the Daily Dot that Lyft is unresponsive to complaints of sexual assault or harassment, despite how hard plaintiffs might try to get results.
“Sometimes, (Lyft says) they won’t pair (a complaining rider) with that driver again,” McCormick said. “In some instances, they’ve ended up paired with the driver again. Some have sought assurance that the driver would be suspended, and they couldn’t get that assurance. Some have filed police reports, and the police have been told that they can’t get information without a subpoena. I have yet to see anything from Lyft cooperating or taking these seriously.”
Abrams said the law firm has recently handled a case from a woman who was supposedly unpaired with a driver she said assaulted her, but Lyft didn’t follow through.
“Last month, we had a client in San Diego who was severely sexually assaulted by her Lyft driver,” Abrams said. “She reported it to Lyft, she reported it to the police, the police contacted Lyft, and she got paired with that driver again, two days later after that. She immediately canceled it, and she had to fight to get the credit back from the original ride and the $5 charge for canceling a ride with the man that sexually assaulted her.”
In a statement, Lyft said it stands by the unmatched feature and said that riders reporting unsafe behavior have the option for follow-up communication from the company.
Levin Simes Abrams, which has taken over 100 sexual assault cases against Lyft and Uber, said that Lyft has inadequate safety precautions, inadequate screening of drivers, a lack of monitoring rides, and a mischaracterization of safety, citing the app’s attempts to appear safe for unaccompanied or intoxicated drivers. For example, the lawsuits cite that in February 2015, Lyft partnered with It’s On Us, an anti-sexual assault initiative, offering free ride credits to new Lyft riders during Spring Break in order to make it “easier to get a safe ride home even if you’re in a new city.”
McCormick said that until Lyft takes action to prevent sexual assaults perpetrated by its drivers, it needs to stop marketing toward women.
“Until they’ve put methods in place to put an end to it, stop encouraging women to get into a Lyft as their safe ride home when they’re intoxicated,” McCormick said. “They’re still marketing themselves as a safe ride home knowing full well their rides are not always safe.”
Abrams said Lyft has tried to shirk liability in cases of sexual harassment or assault by insisting that Lyft drivers are independent contractors, not employees whom the company would be liable for. Even so, the classification of the driver doesn’t prevent Lyft from implementing more safety checks, Abrams said.
“We … strongly believe that they are employees,” Abrams said. “Regardless of that, they could easily have it be part of the requirements of all drivers that they have a Skype interview. That doesn’t make them employees or independent contractors. That just makes sure they have to go through other safety checks.”
Abrams said, in addition to video interviews, Lyft could implement sexual harassment and assault training materials.
“When they have a driver on the platform, they have to review how to use the app and procedures on how to pick up drivers, how to end rides on their phone,” Abrams said. “Why can’t they have a video about sexual harassment and what’s appropriate and what’s not and a policy that you’re never supposed to touch, get out of the car, or ask for numbers of the passengers? Those would just be requirements under their contract to drive.”
Lyft told the Daily Dot that the company will be making sexual harassment prevention training available to riders and drivers but did not specify whether that training would be mandatory.
Well before these lawsuits were filed, ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber received complaints of sexual assault and harassment perpetrated by its drivers. Customers have been calling for increased security measures and complaining that the companies do not do enough when sexual assault complaints are filed.
Twitter user @meghanrother suggested Lyft and Uber do background checks for past sexual assault or domestic violence charges. Lyft says it does. But this ties into an ongoing debate between name-based background checks, which Lyft uses, and fingerprint/biometric background checks, which the attorneys at Levin Simes Abrams say would be safer.
However, according to these lawsuits, Lyft has refused to use biometric background checks which the lawsuits claim are “limited and inaccurate” because they do not perform as deep of a search into a person’s criminal past. According to a statement from Lyft, the company said its background checks include a nationwide criminal search, county, and federal court records searches, and a sex offender registry search.
“Fingerprints are not required in any of the states where statewide ridesharing legislation has been passed,” the statement said. “Additionally, fingerprinting relies on incomplete arrest records rather than convictions like Lyft’s background checks. Looking at arrest records disproportionately disadvantages minorities and communities of color who are more likely to come into contact with the police.”
Really wish I didn’t have to fear for my life getting into an Uber or Lyft so my dad doesn’t have to pick my almost 25 year old self up sexual assault and murder against innocent women am I right lol— Katie (@katie_frace) June 16, 2019
Some riders complained via social media that when they reported their sexual assault or harassment to Lyft, the company would “unpair” that driver with that passenger instead of terminating the driver’s employment. Alison Turkos wrote that she was kidnapped and gang-raped by her Lyft driver and two other men, and Lyft offered to unpair her with the driver.
In October 2017 I was kidnapped by a @lyft driver. He proceeded to cross state lines with me and along with 2 other men rape me. I had a similar response from Lyft. They said they would unpair me from the driver indefinitely. However, they still made me pay for the ride. https://t.co/YaEEkFU4Is— Alison Turkos (@alisonturkos) April 9, 2019
Anna Gillcrist wrote that her Lyft driver sexually harassed her. When she reported the incident to Lyft, the company said it would unpair her from the driver and gave her a $5 ride credit.
This morning, I spoke with @lyft on the phone and told them exactly what happened. The man said “Well ma’am we will make sure that that driver is not able to pick you up again.” I explained that that wasn’t good enough, that this man needed to not pick up ANY woman ever again.— Anna gillcrist (@AnnaGillcrist) April 7, 2019
Lyft said it has implemented features that will increase rider safety, such as in-app photos of the driver and vehicle, real-time ride tracking, and a two-way rating system. The company said it has also created a safety team that handles unsafe driving, discrimination, and suspected criminal behavior. Still, the attorneys at Levin Simes Abrams are advocating for more substantial safety precautions, such as biometric fingerprinting, job interviews, and car cameras.
Abrams said until Lyft and Uber step up and take action, riders will continue to experience sexual harassment and assault at the hands of their drivers.
“It’s becoming an epidemic,” Abrams said. “This is going to continue, and it’s going to grow until these companies take responsibility. Only these companies can do something to effect change.”
This story has been updated.
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Katie Balevic is an editorial intern at the Daily Dot where she enjoys covering social justice issues and politics. Her previous work has appeared in the Daily Texan, the Victoria Advocate, and the Houston Defender.