How Uber Stifles Sexual Assault Accusations, According To A Bombshell Lawsuit

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Nine women who claim they were assaulted by Uber drivers are now accusing the ride-share company of attempting to silence sexual assault survivors. In an amended class-action lawsuit filed Thursday, nine women argued Uber is stifling their sexual assault accusations by seeking to push their case behind closed doors and force them to settle through arbitration. Major companies often use the process of arbitration, which keeps lawsuits out of courts and can result in confidentiality agreements, to try and downplay the kind of negative press that can accompany a public trial.

"Today, Wigdor LLP has filed an amended Class Action complaint alleging @Uber has not only created a system for Uber drivers to sexually assault and rape passengers, but also attempts to silence victims of sexual violence through forced arbitration. We say #TimesUp," the law firm handling the lawsuit on behalf of the nine women tweeted Thursday.

The amended complaint claims Uber was "frantic to deny Jane Does and thousands of female victims their right to access our judicial system, as demonstrated by Uber's recent shameful attempt to force this action into arbitration immediately." The initial class-action lawsuit, which was filed in November, also alleges that Uber's inadequate driver screening process gives predators almost unfettered access to women.

Uber has been pushing for the nine women involved in the class-action lawsuit to settle their claims individually through arbitration on the grounds their Terms of Use, which all riders must agree to before being able to use the app, contains an arbitration agreement. Uber's Terms of Use states that "by agreeing to the Terms, you agree that you are required to resolve any claim that you may have against Uber on an individual basis in arbitration, as set forth in this Arbitration Agreement."

Wigdor attorney Jeanne M. Christensen told The Guardian the arbitration process, as well as any subsequent confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements signed as part of a settlement, would enable Uber to keep the public from finding out the frequency or severity of allegations of assault or misconduct against its drivers. Christensen also expressed concern that keeping the lawsuit out of public courts might prevent other victims from coming forward with their own stories.

But Uber claims the arbitration process won't impede on the women's ability to speak out publicly about the case or their allegations. "Arbitration is the appropriate venue for this case because it allows the plaintiffs to publicly speak out as much as they want and have control over their individual privacy at the same time," an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. That spokesperson also said Uber was taking the allegations brought forth in the case "very seriously."

Rape, assault, groping, kidnapping, and unwanted exposure to a driver's genitals are among some of the most serious allegations levied in the lawsuit. In one incident, Jane Doe 1 (none of the women are identified in the lawsuit) alleged her Miami Uber driver put her over his shoulder, carried her into her apartment, and raped her after noticing she was "barely conscious" during the ride. Charges were filed against that driver, the suit states, although the case is still pending.

In an other incident, Jane Doe 3 alleged her San Francisco Uber driver followed her into her apartment building and attempted to force himself on her while groping her. She alleges that she was only able to get away after she punched him in the stomach. The driver later was found to have the same name, birthdate, and address as a man listed as a registered sexual offender, according to the suit.

Jane Doe 9 alleged her driver drove her to his own apartment and attempted to drag her inside. According to the lawsuit, a neighbor came to the woman's aid and the man was arrested and charged with kidnapping and indecent assault, among other things.

According to Christensen, the Jane Does behind the suit aren't just "horrified and shocked" about being assaulted by drivers Uber purportedly screened. "They are also horrified that people aren't talking about it, and that Uber has been fairly successful at keeping it out of the news."