Nine women who allege they've been sexually assaulted by Uber drivers are pushing back against the ridesharing company for trying to force their proposed class action lawsuit into arbitration.
Two weeks ago, Uber said it would allow survivors of sexual assault and harassment by its drivers to seek justice however they choose, whether that's arbitration, mediation or open court. The updated policy came in the wake of a CNN investigation into sexual assaults and abuse by ridesharing drivers.
But the company said, per its terms of service, it will not allow victims of sexual assault and harassment to join together in a class action lawsuit. Uber's lawyers tried to compel the women to carry out two of the lawsuit claims through arbitration. The claims are related to unfair business practices and consumer legal remedies. Uber said assault related claims need to be handled individually.
The victims' lawyers formally pushed back in a Northern California district court on Tuesday evening. They filed a brief arguing the case benefits the public -- not the victims -- and therefore violates California law.
Moreover, the lawyers argue Uber is hiding the magnitude of the issue by forcing survivors to litigate assault and harassment related claims on an individual basis -- something that's cost prohibitive for many.
Attorney Jeanne Christensen of Wigdor LLP, who is representing the victims, said that at the same time the company issued its announcement, "its lawyers were busy filing a motion to compel to arbitration all of the other claims in the lawsuit."
"If successful, Uber achieves the result it wanted all along -- to silence female victims' voices on a collective basis," Christensen said in a statement sent to CNN. "Such a result also allows Uber to keep secret the data about the countless other incidents of sexual assault by Uber drivers."
In a conversation earlier this month, Uber's chief legal officer Tony West told CNN the company has committed to release a safety transparency report. "We want people to acknowledge the enormity of the issue, and we want us to begin to think of constructive ways to prevent and end sexual assault."
"What's most important is for individual survivors to be able to tell their individual stories," he added.
The new court filing also notes that at least two of the women represented in the lawsuit did not order the Uber rides -- someone else did. Therefore, they aren't bound by the arbitration clause, it states.
Uber is one of several ridesharing companies called on by lawmakers to turn over data related to sexual violence on its platform following CNN's investigation
Nine members of Congress sent a letter to the CEOs of Uber, Lyft, Juno, Curb, and Via last week requesting details about their protocols related to sexual assault and harassment reports, training drivers, and more.
The letter asks if the companies maintain records on drivers who've been accused of sexual violence and do they make that information public. It also wants to know if the companies have protocols in place to alert other ridesharing companies if drivers on their platform are reported for harassment or discrimination. Drivers often work for multiple companies.
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