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Uber Makes Major Shift in Handling Sexual Harassment Claims

Don Reisinger

Uber is making an important shift in how it handles sexual harassment and assault claims.

The ridesharing company on Tuesday announced that it will no longer force employees or riders who accuse another person of sexual harassment or assault into mandatory arbitration, according to The Wall Street Journal. Now, those who say they have been sexually harassed or assaulted can sue Uber.

Mandatory arbitration is a relatively common practice in the corporate world. In some cases, companies force employees to sign a document that says they will engage in an arbitration if they bring a complaint against their employer. Arbitration is done behind closed doors and outside the view of the public. It also tends to result in cheaper settlements for companies. In many cases, it’s a one-sided maneuver by companies to limit their chances of facing public backlash. It also limits the survivor’s ability to speak publicly and openly about the harassment or assault he or she has endured.

Uber has had more than its fair share of sexual harassment claims over the years from both employees and riders. Last year, for instance, Uber was hit with reports from former employees that management was ignoring or not doing enough to address their claims of sexual harassment. Uber has also faced litigation from riders who say their drivers sexually assaulted them.

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The Uber decision—while too late for some—comes against a backdrop of worldwide movements, like #MeToo, that aim at addressing and ultimately eliminating the sexual harassment and assault women have faced and continue to face both in their personal and professional lives. Arbitration is cited by some experts as a method for penalizing the survivors. An expert the Journal interviewed in its report said arbitration can also make it harder for victims to find attorneys because they generally make less in such cases.

In a blog post called “Turning the lights on,” Uber chief legal officer Tony West discussed the company’s decision. West said that Uber’s move is the result of a new corporate mantra called “We do the right thing, period.” He added that while arbitration can help both companies and individuals, Uber has apparently awoken to the need for survivors to have their day in court.

“[W]e have learned it’s important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims,” West wrote. He added that in addition to open court cases, survivors can also choose mediation in addition to arbitration.

In addition to the arbitration decision, Uber’s settlements with survivors will not include a confidentiality agreement that would have otherwise banned them from talking about the case’s facts in public.

“[CEO] Dara [Khosrowshahi] recently said that sexual predators often look for a dark corner,” West wrote in his post. “Our message to the world is that we need to turn the lights on.”